An Old Southern Memory

by Lucy Lee Jones on January 15, 2012

in Martin Luther King, Jr., Poll Tax, Voting

The college I attended right after graduating from high school was Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. I spent the majority of the decade of the fifties in Jackson, a decade of great turmoil in the South. I don’t need to remind you what that decade was all about.

My young husband and I went in to register to vote and pay our poll tax. Somewhere deep in a box I still have mine. If I can find it before I post this, I’ll include a picture of it. In the meantime, I’ve used a picture of me at that age. (It is a picture that brings tears as well as laughter!)

Allow me to describe the scene when we registered for the first time in our lives to have the privilege of voting. In order to vote, not only did you have to pay the poll tax, you had to answer a political/historical question. The one we were asked, as “just turned 21” white kids, was “Who was the first president of the United States?” – a question even most first-graders could answer.

There was a young African-American man at the counter, also wanting to register to vote. His question was something like “Who was Patrick Henry and what did he have to do with the Federalist Papers?”

When Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to bring more freedom to his people, in all actuality, it was for all people. On January 23, 1964, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. No longer would anyone have to pay a poll tax or answer silly questions in order to vote.

We will honor his birthday tomorrow, January 16, 2012, even though today is his actual date of his birth, January 15. It is with great admiration that we have this day of celebration.

A hui hou!

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