1964 Literacy Test

To vote in Louisiana, blacks had to take this test and get 100%

Grading The Louisiana Literacy Test

The Louisiana Literacy Test was designed so that the test-takers would pass or fail simply at the discretion of the registrar who administered the test. The questions were so imprecisely written that the examiner could decree almost any answer correct or incorrect, at his whim. The reality was that registrants the county commissioners wanted to prevent from voting – primarily black applicants, but also certain lower-class whites in disfavor with county officials – were destined to fail the test, regardless of the answers they gave.

Black applicants could be failed for something as simple as a single spelling or punctuation error. However, many examiners chose to deceive test-takers by changing the rules or interpreting paradoxical questions in different ways.

 For example, although question 5 says to “circle” something, questions 1 and 4 say to “draw a line around” something. If the examiner insisted a circle was not a line, the applicant failed.

 Question 10 asks for something to be done to “the first word beginning with ‘L’” – does it mean the first word in this sentence, or the first word on the page?

 Question 24 wants the applicant to “print a word that looks the same whether it is printed frontwards or backwards.” One would assume that a word like BOB would work just fine, but if the examiner expected “backwards” to be in mirror-writing, the B’s would be inverted and thus incorrect.

 The solution to question 25, in spite of the trick question in the triangle, could be that the examiner expected the word “down” to be written on the line!

 In question 27, does the examiner expect only the word right to be written, or does he want the word right plus all the words that follow it? And if the test-taker printed his answer instead of using cursive (“I said write, not print!”), he would fail.

Another factor in passing or failing the test was the time requirement – registrants had to respond to 30 complicated questions in 10 minutes, a time frame which could easily be waived for white voters. There were limitless ways to fail this test, and the registrar, with the blessings of a white controlled county.


Submitted By: Dakkalot

2 replies on “1964 Literacy Test”

People need to keep proof of their education. After a certain amount of success, nobody cares about your education; they care about your skills and current income. Later, it’s your experience, job title and previous employers. Later still it’s your achievements in business and your character reputation. Some people, a rare few, are judged by their enduring legacy.

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