Literacy test: Harvard students take and fail the exam badly (VIDEO).

Watch Harvard Students Take a 1964 Literacy Test. (They Don’t Do Well.) 

Watch Harvard Students Take a 1964 Literacy Test. (They Don’t Do Well.) 

Slate in motion.
Nov. 7 2014 5:30 PM

Harvard Students Take a 1964 Literacy Test  

It doesn’t go well. 

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In the video above, Harvard University students take the literacy test some voters were forced to pass to cast a ballot in 1964. Despite their Ivy League pedigree, they fail. Badly.

The tests were supposedly administered to all voters who “couldn’t prove a certain level of education” but were an obvious attempt to disenfranchise black voters.* White registrars had the sole authority to determine whether someone passed or failed, with one incorrect answer enough to sink a would-be voter. In the process of tripping over the mind-bending questions, the students in the video demonstrate just how unjustly rigged the electoral process was before the Voting Rights Act passed the following year.

*As Slate's blog The Vault noted, after publishing its initial post, historians have encountered difficulties in establishing this document's origin. Read more about the search for an archival copy here.

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Thanks to Carl L. Miller and Dennis Ojogho for use of the video.

This post has been updated for clarity.