Confronting the Modern Era

Dig Deeper: How did the above laws restrict African American rights to vote?

  • Required voters to register to vote at least 20 days before every election. If the registration period was held during the busy planting season, it was harder for farmers to get in town to register. Since most African Americans were laborers during this time, this affected them more than whites. 

    Migrant workers, many of them black, or those living on unnamed streets could not meet residency requirements. Registration forms were often complicated. If a mistake was made on the form, the voter could be disqualified. Often blacks were not allowed any assistance when filling out registration forms, while whites were given help.

  • Required voters to present poll tax receipts before they could vote. Poll taxes were also used to disenfranchise blacks. This was a tax that had to be paid before a person could vote. Many blacks simply could not afford to pay poll taxes. Sometimes taxes had to be paid well in advance of the actual election. 

    Individuals would also have to present their tax receipt at the time of voting. By the time of the election, some had lost their receipts. The poll tax also disfranchised many poor whites as well. However, at times, political bosses such as Boss Crump of Memphis bought blocks of poll tax receipts for blacks and whites who were willing to vote for the bosses’ favored candidate.

  • Instituted secret ballots for state elections. At first glance this seems like a progressive bill. People could vote in secret without fear of repercussions. But there was a hidden purpose in the laws intended to keep black men from voting.

    During this time, many men, including African Americans, couldn’t read. In response, political parties usually printed their own ballots. The ballots had the votes already marked for their party’s candidates. 

    Voters would go to the party headquarters, pick up a ballot, and then drop the ballot in the voting box. After the secret ballot law, the ballot was only available at the voting precinct. The candidates’ names were listed in alphabetical order. People had to be able to read in order to vote.

    A large number of white farmers also couldn’t read. So the bill exempted all rural areas, and only applied to cities and towns with more than 2,500 people. This law was directed at African American men, many of whom lived in cities. Of course black men who could read were not affected by this law.

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