Voter Registration

Trail Marker

500 Constitution Avenue, Meridian, MS

A top priority of the Civil Rights movement was getting African-Americans registered to vote. Although Mississippi had a larger percentage of Black citizens than any other state, it also had the lowest percentage of registered Black voters – less than 7 percent. Throughout the South, there were stories of African-Americans being threatened or beaten, being fired from their jobs, having their homes burned, and even being killed for attempting to register. Many Blacks felt that registering to vote was not worth the risk.

African-Americans were further discouraged by the poll tax and literacy exam. The poll tax was a $2 yearly fee that had to be paid for two consecutive years before a voter could register. The literacy exam, given at this courthouse and many others throughout the South, required applicants to read and interpret sections of the Mississippi Constitution. The decision to pass an applicant was completely in the hands of the registrar, so most African-Americans failed. In Meridian, local churches and Freedom Summer workers held registration drives and taught classes designed to help African-Americans pass the exam.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. It removed, among other things, the poll tax and literacy exam requirement. African-Americans began registering in larger numbers, and by 1969, two-thirds of the voting-age Black population in Mississippi was registered.

Directions to next marker (Freedom Riders): Continue down 5th Street, turn right on 19th Avenue and continue to 4th Street, turn right on 4th Street and continue to intersection of 4th Street and Constitution Avenue; marker located on left (southeast corner).

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