Constitution Day is a great opportunity to discuss the document itself in the
context of voting and this year's election.
Following the Reconstruction era, southern states and groups like the Ku Klux
Klan enforced segregation and intimidated black citizens, keeping them through
various ploys from registering to vote, or if registered, from casting votes that
counted in elections.
Registration obstructions were comprised not just
of literacy tests, although these were the most common. Registration offices kept
odd hours, and required different documentation for black registrants than for
white ones, who could cite a "grandfather clause" providing for automatic
registration if an ancestor had been enrolled. Poll taxes punished poorer citizens
who couldn't afford them.
"White primaries" permitted only white
citizens to cast ballots, and in states where the Democratic Party was the only
one whose nominees ever won, the primary was in fact the election. Precincts were
gerrymandered so that white voters would always outnumber African American ones;
even if they did get to cast ballots, sometimes African American voters received
"tissue paper ballots," made of thinner paper and discarded before the
votes were counted.
1. Hand out the "Constitution Test" and tell students that they will
take it because today is Constitution Day, by federal law.
2. When students
ask whether the test will count, tell them that you haven't decided yet.
After most students have completed the test, ask them to trade papers and grade
4. Read the answers aloud. Do not respond if students say "That's
not fair" to an answer like that of #20.
5. After students have marked
the number wrong for their neighbors and returned the tests, tell the class: "You
just took a 1965 Alabama Literacy Test to determine whether you were qualified
to vote. Would you have passed it?"
6. Discussion Questions
were pretty upset when you thought it might harm your grade. How might you feel
if it robbed you of your right to vote?
In 1965, you had to be 21 to vote.
How old are African American Alabamans today who were 21 in 1965, and can remember
these literacy tests?
What are the requirements today for registration and
voting in your state in the Presidential election?
How did the lesson help
you to understand the significance of this current election?
the handout, "The End of Literacy Tests: The Voting Rights Act of 1965,"
for reading aloud or reflectively. Does it affect their opinion of President Lyndon
Students may wish to research other voter obstructions: gerrymandering, tissue
paper ballots, grandfather clauses, white primaries.