1965: Voting Rights Act
After this act was passed, Mississippi native Georgia Clark finally took the
opportunity to register. She mentioned that after 1965, federal agents "were
helping the people to register, because they had so many problems trying to
register with people asking them 'how many bubbles in a bar of soap' and 'how
many seeds in a watermelon and different other foolish things." Civil rights
activist Ruby Magee noted that during one voting rights trial, Attorney General
John Doar used "copies of literacy tests taken by white people and copies
. . . taken by black people and showed where some white illiterates had been
allowed to register, whereas they had not been able to find any mistakes on
[her] test and [she] had not been allowed to register." She explained that
"shortly after they brought the federal people down and they wasn't asking you
all these different, silly questions, I went, and then I got my husband and
a lot of other people in the neighborhood and got them registered." Prior to
this act's passage however, registering to vote entailed being beaten, evicted,
chased by dogs, and quite often killed.
a picture of a voting rights demonstration in McComb, Miss., in 1962. McComb
was the site of the some of the most violent repression of civil rights. Many
churches and houses were bombed. Many people died. One man, Herbert
Lee, was shot in cold blood. McComb was also the site of a mass
arrest of students.
From the Erle Johnston Papers, McCain Library and Archives,
University of Southern Mississippi.
on the play button to hear the following excerpt. Total time: 20 seconds
We had a hard time trying to get registered. [When] some of our people
[would] go up to vote, and they would ask them how many bubbles in a bar
of soap. But they didn't stop there. They would go back. They just kept
--Bea Jenkins, a Sardis, Mississippi, native who became active in
the civil rights movement in the early sixties.
on the play button to hear the following excerpt. Total time: 22 seconds
Well, as I recall, in our constitution they had in there a requirement
that anybody applying to vote would have to be able to read and interpret
the constitution, which was more of a gimmick than anything else. A lot
of whites couldn't even do that, you know, but they were permitted to vote.
-- Erle Johnston is a former director (1963-1968) of the Mississippi
State Sovereignty Commission. Prior to accepting this position, Johnston
worked as the Sovereignty Commission's public relations director (1960-1963).
In this role, he coordinated a speakers bureau that had the goal of "telling
the real truth" about Mississippi and its race relations.