Every single Harvard student failed a test only bestowed on blacks so they could vote during the turbulent 1960s. An assignment given to students at the Ivy League school was the 1964 Louisiana Literacy Test and none of them passed it.
It was an unusually difficult test — one meant to discourage blacks from voting. Students struggled with questions having to do with grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and trick questions that a white registrar would essentially decide if the would-be voter could go to the polls and elect whomever he or she wanted. BDC Wire reports that race relations tutor at Harvard, Carl L. Miller, had the students take the exam. It was made up of 30 questions and had to be answered in 10 minutes with every answer correct. This was before the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.
As Slate reveals, several questions were purposely meant to disenfranchise African-American voters at the time. As an example, one question showed just how difficult the Louisiana Literacy Test was to take.
“Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write.”
A host of other questions were themed much the same way. A few required drawing circles that blended into each other a certain way and were expected to come up with nearly impossible connect-the-dot type questions.
Other tests in the South were devised like the literacy test in Louisiana. Alabama also had its own kind of test with similar intentions of hoping African-Americans would stay away from the polls. These tests were handed to voters who were unable to show proof they passed the fifth grade.
It was a humiliating test and Harvard students filmed taking it were beside themselves. It was an eye-opening experiment for students. Miller says people taking it were set up to fail, period.
“Louisiana’s literacy test was designed to be failed. Just like all the other literacy tests issued in the South at the time, this test was not about testing literacy at all. It was a legitimate sounding, but devious measure that the State of Louisiana used to disenfranchise people that had the wrong skin tone or belonged to the wrong social class.”
To see the full version of the 1964 Louisiana Literacy Test blacks were required to take in order to vote, check it out here.
[Image via Harvard / Daily Mail]