For the past few months, there has been much discussion about ways to increase the requirements for American citizens to vote. I believe my story is relevant to that conversation.
When I became eligible to vote in 1957 (the voting age was then 21), I lived in Virginia. The office of the Registrar of Voters was only open a few days a month. It was necessary to make an appointment. I arrived at 4 p.m. one afternoon. A black man about my age was writing at a table in the anteroom. "I hope you can write fast," he said. "I have been working on this test for two hours, and she closes at five."
"What test?" I asked.
He handed me an instruction sheet, which read: "On the paper provided, write at least one full page in response to each of these four questions." I don't remember the exact wording of each, but one asked for a specific quote from the Declaration of Independence with a discussion of its meaning. Another posed a similar question requiring a specific quote from the Constitution. The third asked for the names of our senators and congressman and the committees on which they served.
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I do remember the final question because I knew I could not answer it. "Give the exact names and dates of three major Supreme Court decisions, the arguments on both sides and the final vote."
When I was called in, I immediately apologized saying that I had not known about the test and would have to go home to study. "Oh, honey," the registrar said, "that's just for colored people. All I need from you is your name, address and signature."
Cecile D. Banner