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Today in Georgia History
is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.

August 21

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Georgia's Literacy Test

August 21, 1907 - Georgia
It was a major blow to the rights of black Georgians. At the same time, a new phrase was born – the Grandfather Clause.

In 1907, Georgia Governor Hoke Smith, who had campaigned promising to disenfranchise black voters, signed an act that would amend Georgia's constitution and impose a literacy test as a requirement for voting.

The Georgia Constitution required voters to be male, at least 21, and a resident of Georgia for one year, but did not explicitly disqualify black voters. Because Smith’s Amendment would disenfranchise many whites also, it contained exemptions designed to allow whites to vote, even if they failed a literacy test.

Among those exemptions: any Union or Confederate veteran or their descendants could vote. Because many white Georgians had grandfathers in the confederate army, this provision became known as the “Grandfather Clause.” Voters approved the amendment in 1908 and Georgia took another long step down the dark road of Jim Crow. It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overturn the blatant act of discrimination proposed on August 21, 1907.



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Martin Luther King Jr. was present for the signing of the Voting Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson.