African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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My mother Winston-Salem, North Carolina 1930s Winston-Salem, North Carolina oral history

In talking about my grandfather, my mother would often tell the story of how he was able to vote at a time and in a place where most African Americans could not do so. The first time he went to the polls to vote he was told that he could not do so because he was black. When he insisted that it was his right to vote, he was then told that he had to pass a literacy test. He would have to recite the preamble to the constitution in order to exercise his right.

Since he had a very rudientary education, he was unable to read the entire document by himself. He asked his daughters (my mother was one of them), to help him read and eventually memorize the preamble. When the next election was held, he again went to the polls to vote. When he was asked to recite the preamble to the Constitution, he stood erect as was his custom, and recited the entire preamble flawlessly. He was allowed to vote then, but was told to not tell any other Black folks that he had voted. He had successfully challenged the system and won.

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