Proponents of tests to prove an applicant’s ability to read and understand English claimed that the exams ensured an educated and informed electorate. In practice they were used to disqualify immigrants and the poor, who had less education. In the South they were used to prevent African Americans from registering to vote. The Voting Rights Act ended the use of literacy tests in the South in 1965 and the rest of the country in 1970.
In Mississippi, applicants were required to transcribe and interpret a section of the state constitution and write an essay on the responsibilities of citizenship. Registration officials selected the questions and interpreted the answers, effectively choosing which applicants to pass and which to fail.