From about 1900 to 1965, most African Americans were not allowed to vote in the South. This was especially true in the Deep South: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
White people in power used many methods to keep African Americans from voting. Some of these methods also prevented poor white people from voting.
Ways People Were Kept From Voting
1) Violence: Blacks who tried to vote were threatened, beaten, and killed. Their families were also harmed. Sometimes their homes were burned down. Often, they lost their jobs or were thrown off their farms.
Whites used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from even thinking about voting. Still, some blacks passed the requirements to vote and took the risk. Some whites used violence to punish those “uppity” people and show other blacks what would happen to them if they voted.
2) Literacy tests: Today almost all adults can read. One hundred years ago, however, many people – black and white – were illiterate. Most illiterate people were not allowed to vote. A few were allowed if they could understand what was read to them. White officials usually claimed that whites could understand what was read. They said blacks could not understand it, even if they could.
3) Property tests: In the South one hundred years ago, many states allowed only property owners to vote. Many blacks and whites had no property and could not vote.
4) Grandfather clause: People who could not read and owned no property were allowed to vote if their fathers or grandfathers had voted before 1867. Of course, practically no blacks could vote before 1867, so the grandfather clause worked only for whites.
5) All-white primary elections
6) Purges: From time to time, white officials purged the voting rolls. That means they took people’s names off the official lists of voters.
7) Former prisoners: People who had gone to prison were often not allowed to vote. Blacks were very often arrested on trumped-up charges or for minor offenses.
8) Poll taxes: In Southern states, people had to pay a tax to vote. The taxes were about $25 to $50 dollars in today’s money. Many people had extremely low incomes and could not afford this tax. This poll tax applied to all people who wanted to vote – black and white. There were ways for whites to get around other laws, but not around the poll tax. Many poor whites could not vote because of the poll tax.