The End of the Poll Tax

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Poll tax receipt of Thomas Lloyd Tunnell, a former Confederate soldier. Courtesy Jim Brownlee/Lowndes County Mississippi Genealogy and History Network

On this day in 1964, the 24th Amendment was passed after it was ratified by South Dakota. While the 15th Amendment protects the rights of all male citizens to vote, many Southern states found ways to make it difficult for poor African-Americans to cast a ballot, including charging a tax to vote and literacy tests. The Supreme Court decided that literacy tests were in fact constitutional in 1898 with Williams v. Mississippi.

Proposed in 1962, the 24th Amendment makes poll taxes illegal. The amendment reads:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While poll taxes were made illegal with the 24th Amendment, literacy tests were not fully abolished until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Other methods by Southern states to make voting difficult for African-Americans included literacy tests and in some cases, threats of violence. Why would Southern states make it difficult for African-Americans to vote?
  2. Using the Digital Classroom’s “Making a Change” module’s interactive timeline for additional background, how did civil rights leaders and activists use the First Amendment to help African-Americans vote before and after the ratification of the 24th Amendment?

You can read more about the 24th Amendment and the civil rights movement in our Digital Classroom’s “Making A Change” Module. The Newseum Digital Classroom is a free resource featuring primary sources, interactives, historic newsreels, videos and lesson plans that bring history, journalism and the First Amendment to life for students. Registration is free.

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