Can You Pass This Jim Crow Era Literacy Test? (Hint: No. No You Cannot)

Do you have a high school education? Do you consider yourself to be pretty smart? Do you think you have what it takes to vote in an election? Well, according to this literacy test from Louisiana, you don’t. So sit down and let your betters run the country, boy!

I know what you’re thinking: “Bullshit! I can pass any damn literacy test you put in front of me!” But you’d be underestimating just what kind of assholes were running things in the South during that delightful post-Civil War period known as “Reconstruction.” Reconstruction is when the North, hoping to ease the sting of the South’s crushing defeat, continued to let Southern whites treat blacks like second-class citizens. Or rather, like they weren’t citizens at all. Oh sure, they couldn’t flat-out deny them the right to vote, but racists, being endlessly inventive, found all sorts of other ways to keep black people away from the polls. One of them was Voter ID “Literacy tests” that were supposed to keep the uneducated from voting but somehow only ever seemed to be given to non-whites.

Here’s the test, courtesy of Mr. Timothy O’Donnell, a 7th-grade teacher from upstate NY. It’s only 19 question so it should be totally easy for a bright, educated modern American like yourself, right? You have 10 minutes to take it and any wrong answers means that YOU are not allowed to vote.



Well, here we are, ten minutes later and you failed. Don’t believe me? Look up the answers here and be amazed at how rigged this thing was. Guess you don’t get to vote. So sorry! Better luck next time!

But don’t feel bad! In 2014, a bunch of Harvard students, some of our best and brightest, tried to take a similar test (they had 30 questions instead of 19) and they all failed. All of them. Badly. But this was considered a legitimate exercise of the State’s power to regulate elections to disenfranchise anyone they didn’t deem “worthy” of voting.

These days, the American right-wing has found new “legal” ways to steal the votes of millions of people in the name of “protecting the integrity of the vote,” but just like the above test, it’s a ridiculously transparent pretense to disenfranchise Those People. Sadly for the right, without a conservative controlled Supreme Court, time is running out for Republican voter suppression schemes. But I’m sure they’re already hard at work coming up with the next version of a “literacy test” in order to cling to power.

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