The 24th Amendment

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13651

What if you had to pay a tax before you were allowed to vote? This was a reality in the Jim Crow South before the 24th Amendment banned voting fees.

categories

United States, United States

subject
Government
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Before exploring what the 24th Amendment was and why it was needed, take a look at this map showing which states ratified it:

24th Amendment ratification map

Image by SnowFire, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Only the dark blue states voted to ratify between 1962 and 1964, leading to the inclusion of the 24th Amendment into the U.S. Constitution.

  • Why did the South so uniformly reject this amendment?

Jim Crow South

During the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, the U.S. government was actively enforcing the rights of African Americans to vote by militarily occupying the Southern states.

However, with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, the troops were pulled out.

Hayes, circa 1870s

Image by Mathew Brady, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

At that point, Southern state legislatures were able to begin passing laws designed to circumvent the 15th Amendment, which gave every citizen* the right to vote, regardless of race.

(*It is important to note that what constitutes a citizen has evolved over the years.)

To understand what voting was like for African Americans during this period, watch Jim Crow Laws In the South from NBC News Learn:

  • So, how were African Americans stopped from voting?

They were required to meet property or monetary requirements.

Several creative laws targeted aspects associated with being a poor, Black person in the South rather than skin color itself. The poll tax, in particular, monetarily stopped Black people from voting because they had to pay a significant fee to register.

However, because this tax had to be issued equally in order to be constitutional, a grandfather clause was added. Any citizen with a grandfather who voted was able to vote without any of these barriers. This clause could only possibly apply to White voters.

Poll Tax

woman voting

Poll taxes were not new. They existed in many forms over the country's history as a way to pay for the cost of running statewide elections.

This meant that White male voters in the South had been paying these relatively small fees since turning 18.

A retroactive requirement was added to the tax, which required African Americans to pay for every year of life after the age of 18. This meant a 30-year-old White male paid the base poll tax, while a 30-year-old Black man would be required to pay the poll tax mulitpled by 12.

On top of these financial hurdles, Black voters were intimidated out of voting by the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of between four and five million people by the 1920s.

Ku Klux Klan parade, 1926

Image [cropped] from the National Photo Company Collection, via Wikimedia Commons, has no known copyright restrictions.

The combination of all these obstacles effectively silenced the Black vote from 1878 until after the 24th Amendment was ratified in 1964.

John F. Kennedy

JFK, 1961

Image by White House Press Office, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, he tried to do as much as he possibly could for the Black community. As a Democrat himself, his commitment to the Southern Democrats stopped him from endorsing major reform; however, Kennedy championed the 24th Amendment.

Although Supreme Court cases in the 1950s, like Brown v. Board of Education, showed the country that equality was coming, neither political party had the power to change legislation in the Senate.

Southern senators blocked any federal legislation in Congress that would end the poll tax until Senator Spessard Holland from Florida showed that a Southern Democrat thought it was time to make the practice illegal. He spearheaded the 24th Amendment, and it was then endorsed by John F. Kennedy.

The amendment proved to be easier to pass than enforcing legislation on the matter because of the broken system in the Senate.

Holland, 1946

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

24th Amendment

Passed in 1962 and ratified two years later, this amendment makes it incredibly clear that poll taxes cannot be used in federal elections:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

  • This amendment is fairly straightforward, right?

While only five Southern states still had poll taxes by the time this amendment was ratified, no state in the South besides Florida ratified this amendment in the 1960s.

Continue on the Got It? section to discover if this had any effect on the politicians elected.

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