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

Context

Between 1877 and the mid-1960s, authorities enforced racial segregation throughout Virginia -- this was a time in history known as Jim Crow. 

Virginia's 1902 State Constitute, authorized by the General Assembly, instituted poll taxes, literacy tests, and mandatory segregated schools. However, Virginia's poll taxes remained in effect until the 1960s and only ended in part due to the efforts of Evelyn Thomas Butts.

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, only five states retained the poll tax: Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Virginia.

In November 1963, Evelyn Thomas Butts, a Black 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?

Social Media Spin: If reporters had been on Twitter in 1966, how might this article and issue have been tweeted?

Comments

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