The 1965Alabama Literacy Test: The Reluctant Extension of the Franchise Kids Voting USA

This lesson examines the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test on the U.S. Constitution as an example of devices used to disenfranchise the African-American population. This exercise comprises lesson 4 of the 22 Kids Voting USA high school core activities (see "Kids Voting USA: From Classroom to Dinner Table to the Polls" immediately following this article).

Students take and score the 68 items of the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test to experience in a small way the frustration and injustice this kind of test produced. (45 minutes)

Get Ready
Duplicate the required number of blank tests.
Note: this test should be administered after students have studied both the Constitution and the obstruction of African-American voting. They should be aware, for instance, that white voters did not have to take these tests because of "Grandfather Clauses."

Give the Test
Say: "The U.S. Constitution is so important to citizenship that you should know it perfectly without needing previous study time. No textbooks may be consulted."
Provide serious, uninterrupted and monitored test time (25 minutes).

Students will trade papers and score the tests as you read each item with its full correct response (10 minutes).

Predictably, no student will get fewer than 7 items incorrect (= 90%). Say: "You just took the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test to determine whether you were qualified to vote. If you missed more than 7 answers, the registrars would have refused you."

Ask Questions
"You were very upset when you thought this test might harm your grade. How would you feel if it robbed you of your right to vote?"
"Why did Southerners want to keep African Americans away from the polls? What were they afraid of?" Make connections to racism - political power - economics.

"What are the only requirements today for registration and voting in any region of the United States?"

Students can write a short story about a character who took a literacy test in the South, and failed it (or passed it). What happened next?
Students can research the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What other obstructions to voting were operating at this time, especially in the South? What was the political history of the bill?

Students can write a paragraph or essay in response to this quote by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Social Education and Kids Voting USA thank Alan Veeh, government teacher at McClintock HS, Tempe, AZ, who received this lesson from Dr. Robert Marion, University of Redlands, CA, in 1969. Dr. Marion, now deceased, obtained it during his involvement with the civil rights movement.
1.Which of the following is a right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?
Public Educationn Employment
Trial by Jury

2.The federal census of population is taken each five years. True False

3. If a person is indicted for a crime, name two rights which he has:

4. A U.S. senator elected at the general election in November takes office the following year on what date?

5. A President elected at the general election in November takes office the following year on what date?

6. Which definition applies to the word "amendment?"
Proposed change, as in a Constitution
Making of peace between nations at war
A part of the government

7. A person appointed to the U.S. Supreme court is appointed for a term of _________________________.

8. When the Constitution was approved by the original colonies, how many states had to ratify it in order for it to be in effect? _____

9. Does enumeration affect the income tax levied on citizens in various states? Yes No

10. Persons opposed to swearing in an oath may say, instead: (solemnly: _______________________)

11. To serve as President of the United States, a person must have attained:
45 years.
12. What words are required by law to be on all coins and paper currency of the U.S.?

13. The Supreme Court is the chief lawmaking body of the state. True False
14. If a law passed by a state is contrary to provisions of the U.S. Constitution, which law prevails?

15. If a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate, the state must hold an election, but meanwhile the place may be filled by a temporary appointment made by:

16. A U.S. senator is elected for a term of _____ years.

17. Appropriation of money for the armed services can be only for a period limited to _____ years.

18. The chief executive and the administrative offices make up the _______________________ branch of government.

19. Who passes laws dealing with piracy?

20. The number of representatives which a state is entitled to have in the House of Representatives is based on:

21. The Constitution protects an individual against punishments which are _________________________ and _________________________ .

22. When a jury has heard and rendered a verdict in a case, and the judgment on the verdict has become final, the defendant cannot again be brought to trial for the same cause. n Falsen True

23. Name two levels of government which can levy taxes:

24. Communism was the type of government in:

25. Cases tried before a court of law are two types, civil and:

26. By a majority vote of the members of Congress, the Congress can change provisions of the Constitution of the U.S. True False

27. For security, each state has a right to form a

28. The electoral vote for President is counted in the presence of two bodies. Name them:

29. If no candidate for President receives a majority of the electoral vote, who decides who will become President?

30. Of the original 13 states, the one with the largest representation in the first Congress was:

31. Of which branch of government is the Speaker of the House a part?

32. Capital punishment is the giving of a death sentence.
True False

33. In case the President is unable to perform the duties of his office, who assumes them?

34. "Involuntary servitude" is permitted in the U.S. upon conviction of a crime. True False

35. If a state is a party to a case, the Constitution provides that original jurisdiction shall be in:

36. Congress passes laws regulating cases which are included in those over which the U.S. Supreme Court has _________________________ jurisdiction.

37. Which of the following is a right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution?
Public Housing
Trial by Jury

38. The Legislatures of the states decide how presidential electors may be chosen.
False True

39. If it were proposed to join Alabama and Mississippi to form one state, what groups would have to vote approval in order for this to be done?

40. The Vice President presides over:

41. The Constitution limits the size of the District of Columbia to _________________________.

42. The only laws which can be passed to apply to an area in a federal arsenal are those passed by provided consent for the purchase of the land is given by the

43. In which document or writing is the "Bill of Rights" found?

44. Of which branch of government is a Supreme Court justice a part?

Executiven Legislativen Judicial
45. If no person receives a majority of the electoral votes, the Vice President is chosen by the Senate. True False
46. Name two things which the states are forbidden to do by the U.S. Constitution:

47. If election of the President becomes the duty of the U.S. House of Representatives and it fails to act, who becomes President and when?

48. How many votes must a person receive in order to become President if the election is decided by the U.S. House of Representatives? _____

49. How many states were required to approve the original Constitution in order for it to be in effect? _____

50. Check the offenses which, if you are convicted of them, disqualify you for voting.
Issuing worthless checks
Petty larcenyn Manufacturing whiskey

51. The Congress decides in what manner states elect presidential electors. True False

52. Name two of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution.

53. Congress is composed of _________________________ .

54. All legislative powers granted in the U.S. Constitution may legally be used only by ________________________.

55. The population census is required to be made every _____ years.

56. Impeachments of U.S. officials are tried by:

57. If an effort to impeach the President of the U.S. is made, who presides at the trial?

58. On the impeachment of the chief justice of the Supreme court of the U.S., who tries the case?

59. Money is coined by order of:
U.S. Congress
The President's Cabinet
State Legislatures

60. Persons elected to cast a state's vote for U.S. President and Vice President are called presidential

61. Name one power which is exclusively legislative and is mentioned in one of the parts of the Constitution above.

62. If a person flees from justice into another state, who has authority to ask for his return?

63. Whose duty is it to keep Congress informed of the state of the union?

64. If the two houses of Congress cannot agree on adjournment, who sets the time?

65. When presidential electors meet to cast ballots for President, must all electors in a state vote for the same person for President or can they vote for different persons if they so choose?

66. After the presidential electors have voted, to whom do they send the count of their votes?

67. The power to declare war is vested in:

68. Any power and rights not given to the U.S. or prohibited to the states by the U.S. Constitution are specified as belonging to whom?

Answers to Alabama Literacy Test

1.Trial by Jury only

2.False (every 10 years)

3.Habeas Corpus (immediate presentation of charges); lawyer; speedy trial

4.January 3

5.January 20

6.Proposed change, as in a Constitution

7.Life (with good behavior)





12. In God We Trust

13. False

14. U.S. Constitution

15. The governor

16. Six

17. Two

18. Executive

19. Congress

20. Population (as determined by census) less untaxed Indians

21. Cruel and unusua

l22. True

23. State and local

24. Russia

25. Criminal

26. False

27. Militia

28. House of Representatives, Senate

29. House of Representatives

30. Virginia

31. Legislative

32. True

33. The Vice President

34. True

35. The Supreme Court

36. Coappellate

37. Trial by Jury

38. True

39. Congress and the legislatures of both states

40. the Senate

41. 10 miles square

42. Congress; state legislatures

43. Constitution

44. Judicial

45. True

46. Coin money; make treaties

47. The Vice President, until the House acts


49. 9

50. Murder

51. False

52. (Preamble statements) "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

53. House of Representatives and Senate

54. Congress


56. The Senate

57. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

58. The Senate

59. The U. S. Congress

60. Electors

61. Pass laws, coin money, declare war

62. The Governor

63. The President

64. The President

65. They can vote for different people.

66. Vice President (President of the Senate)

67. Congress

68. The states; the people