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Evelyn Butts Challenged the Poll Tax, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), 1966

Context

During the twentieth century several southern states removed the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting. At the time of the passage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution in 1964, banning the poll tax as a qualification to vote in federal elections, only five states retained the poll tax: Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Virginia.

In November 1963, Evelyn Thomas Butts, an African American community activist from Norfolk, filed the first suit in a federal court seeking to have the poll tax declared unconstitutional. She argued that the poll tax put an unfair financial burden on citizens in the exercise of their constitutional rights of citizenship, which violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. In March 1964, Annie E. Harper and a group of people from Fairfax County filed another federal suit against the poll tax. The two cases were later combined. On March 24, 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the combined cases called Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections that the poll tax in all elections violated the U.S. Constitution. The decision ended the use of the poll tax in Virginia, and a provision of the Virginia Constitution of 1971 explicitly prohibits requiring payment of a poll tax as a prerequisite to voting.

Read the full transcript.

Citation: Evelyn Butts Challenged the Poll Tax, 1966.
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk) 25 March 1966. Library of Virginia.

Standards

VS.1, VS.9, USII.1, USII.8, VUS.1, VUS.13, VUS.14

Suggested Questions

Current Connections: What challenges towards voting rights from today would you relate to this poll tax?

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