In the video above, Harvard University students take the literacy test some voters were forced to pass to cast a ballot in 1964. Despite their Ivy League pedigree, they fail. Badly.
The tests were supposedly administered to all voters who “couldn’t prove a certain level of education” but were an obvious attempt to disenfranchise black voters.* White registrars had the sole authority to determine whether someone passed or failed, with one incorrect answer enough to sink a would-be voter. In the process of tripping over the mind-bending questions, the students in the video demonstrate just how unjustly rigged the electoral process was before the Voting Rights Act passed the following year.
*As Slate’s blog The Vault noted, after publishing its initial post, historians have encountered difficulties in establishing this document’s origin. Read more about the search for an archival copy here.
Thanks to Carl L. Miller and Dennis Ojogho for use of the video.
This post has been updated for clarity.