The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why literacy-tests are evil

After the Civil War, the winner imposed several so-called "civil rights" measures upon the losers. The losers in the South turned out to have some fight left in them. There ensued a particularly ugly period of territorial terrorism (by both sides); the South then reached an accommodation with the North (because white Southern veterans were better at the terrorism, and knew the territory). One of the means old Dixie had to maintain... let's call it the Southern Way Of Life... was to restrict the franchise. Given that I'm anti-democratic myself, I don't have a problem with that much. How the South did it was key. And - I warn you - I am not going to agree with all the means chosen.

In the 1880s the now-"redeemed" Louisianan state government proposed a "separate but equal" system of segregation as consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment. In Plessy v Ferguson, the Supreme Court (8/9ths of it) ruled Louisiana's way. But this decision, which I did actually read, reaffirmed that blacks were legally equal. So Louisiana's government couldn't just say fuck you we're bigots (h/t O'Rourke).

Louisiana instead went (ostensibly) Rhodesian: to get a vote, you had to prove you were worthy of it. There was a poll-tax, for instance; if you couldn't pony up, you weren't eligible. Felons couldn't vote (still can't). There was also a literacy test. Blacks back then had problems amassing sufficient funds, sufficient ability to stay out of trouble, and sufficient "education". Also some whites were tossed out of the voter-rolls too.

There was however a measure of humbug involved. In some counties the whites weren't too rich or smart either, so-called "red necks". Here we get into this thing called the "grandfather clause": if the man could prove his gran'pappy had the vote, he could vote too. There was kind of a problem here in that blacks' gran'pappys were slaves at the time. "Felonies" could be expanded to include the sale of alcohol. Also the literacy-tests could be gamed:

A black man went down to register to vote. / "Well, boy," said the white man at the courthouse, "you have to pass a literacy test before you can vote. Can you read?" / "Yassuh, I shore can", responded the black man. / The white man handed him a Hebrew Bible. "Okay, read this to me then". / "Yassuh, I can read it. It says 'Ain't no niggers gonna vote this year' ".

I don't know if this joke was first put out amongst the whites or the blacks. I'm guessing blacks, and further guessing that some Kluxer white boy overheard it. I do know that it wasn't just bitterness by some moron who couldn't pass the test. I can think of several (more subtle) ways of gaming this test: one fine way, which has been proposed this very month, is by enforcing the rulers' view of history. The "Grandfather Clause" alone proves that not everything was on the level here.

And now we find out that literacy and even IQ does not make one a rational player in a zero-sum game ... like, oh, politics.

I will just reiterate, first, that banning unpardoned felons is a fine thing, assuming felonies are justly defined; and that the South should have stuck with the poll-tax. Or raised up an Heinleinian "citizen rule" system; although I suspect that here, Appalachia would have ended up ruling over the Alabamians like kings.

posted by Zimri on 19:54 | link | 0 comments

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