According to the Wikipedia page on Jim Crow Laws:

In Louisiana, by 1900, black voters were reduced to just 5,320 on the rolls, although they comprised the majority of the states population. By 1910, there were just 730 blacks registered, less than 0.5% of those eligible to vote.

"In 27 of the states parishes not one single black voter was registered. In a further 9 parishes, just a single black voter was registered."

The cumulative effect in North Carolina was that no blacks were registered to vote during the period 1896-1904 ... In Alabama, tens of thousands of poor white were affected although they had been promised that the new restrictions would not affect them ... those who could not vote were not eligible to serve on juries or run for local office, they effectively disappeared from political life.

Note: the quotation above is from Democracy, Anti-Democracy & the Canon, Richard Pildes, published in 2000

The main instruments by which this disenfranchisement was effected was through:

a) poll taxes,

b) literacy and comprehension tests,

c) residency and record-keeping requirements.

Q. Of these instruments which were the most effective - specifically in Louisiana?

  • 3
    This appears to be a question that is purposely subjective, with the intent of providing the author an opportunity to dump all their knowledge on the subject without worry of being objectively wrong (as long as the argument can be supported). This is great for school essays, but is simply not the kind of question we can field here. Our format requires objectively answerable questions. If your own research on this topic turns up a question that looks objectively answerable, feel free to ask that here. Dec 9, 2018 at 2:49
  • 1
    @Pieter Geerken: Really? That is objectively wrong as the extract I've pointed out is a small part of the wiki page in question - as you can see by merely comparing my extract with the page in question. I'm flattered though you think I know a great deal about the civil rights movement, and the politics of reconstruction when I really don't. The specific question I am asking is not answered on that page and can be objectively answered. Dec 9, 2018 at 3:02
  • 5
    This seems hard to answer, but I don't think it's subjective. Dec 9, 2018 at 5:47
  • Literacy and comprehension were most effective, because they were very subjective and could be made purposely harder or easier. Even today most Americans do not understand fully Constitution and voting system. Actually, if implemented more correctly (with defined answers) literacy test could be useful even today to remove "low-information voters" regardless of race.
    – rs.29
    Dec 9, 2018 at 14:18
  • @rs.29: None of the instruments were subjective - they were objective; of course people with the whip-hand could vary them how they chose - is that what you mean by them being 'subjective'? To me it merely looks like the exercise of power disguised by cunning. Mar 25, 2020 at 3:11

2 Answers 2


tl; dr

In the short to medium term, it can only have been the literacy and comprehension tests. As explained below, the Poll Tax wasn't introduced until after the majority of black people in Louisiana had been disenfranchised.

In the longer term, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty.

As Michael Perman observed in his book, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 [University of North Carolina Press, 2001]:

Of course, the exact cause of a person's failure to register was difficult, if not impossible, to determine since most of the unregistered had not been rejected when they applied but simply had not applied at all. The cause of their refusal or inability to apply cannot be ascertained.

In a 2018 briefing paper titled Barriers to Voting in Louisiana, the Louisiana Advisory Committee for the United States Commission on Civil Rights observed:

In Louisiana in 1896, there were 130,334 African Americans registered to vote; in 1900, after adopting a new constitution with aspects of the Mississippi Plan, there were only 5,320.

To understand this change, it is worth reviewing the changes implemented in the 1898 Constitution of the State of Louisiana with the provisions governing Suffrage and Elections in the 1879 Constitution of the State of Louisiana which it replaced.

Literacy and comprehension tests

That illiteracy was a significant factor is beyond doubt.

Prior to the adoption of the 1898 Louisiana Constitution, at the session of the Suffrage Committee held on 15 February 1898:

"... it was admitted that illiteracy was so great in Louisiana that an educational qualification would exclude too many whites, besides excluding the blacks"

However, Article 208 of the 1879 constitution had introduced a poll tax to fund public education:

Article 208. The General Assembly shall levy an annual poll tax, for the maintenance of public schools, upon every male inhabitant in the State over the age of twenty-one years, which shall never be less than one dollar nor exceed one dollar and a half per capita, and the General Assembly shall pass laws to enforce payment of said tax.

As Michael Perman noted in his 2001 book, already by 1898, many North Louisiana Democrats voiced their concern that

"... many African Americans would soon be able to meet the literacy test"

  • [Perman, ibid, p142]

This was presumably - at least in part - due to improvements in public education funded by the poll tax introduced in 1879.

The literacy tests were introduced by Section 3 of Article 197 of the Constitution of 1898. As the figures from the Briefing Paper above attest, that was enough to have the desired effect of disenfranchising the vast majority of black voters (together with many poor, white voters).

However Louisiana legislators realised that that would not prevent black voters from regaining the franchise in the future. This was why North Louisiana Democrats lobbied for the poll tax.

Poll Tax

The provisions introduced in Article 198 of the 1898 Constitution, requiring that all registered voters produced a receipt to prove they had paid the poll tax in the two proceeding years could not have been a factor in the dramatic decline in voter numbers noted above. It did not come into effect until after the general State election of 1890:

Article 198. No person less than sixty years of age shall be permitted to vote at any election in this State who shall not, in addition to the qualifications above prescribed, have paid on or before the 31st day of December, of each year, for the two years preceding the year in which he offers to vote, a poll tax of one dollar per annum, to be used exclusively in aid of the public schools of the parish in which such tax shall have been collected; which tax is hereby imposed on every male resident of this State between the age of twenty-one and sixty years. Poll taxes shall be a lien only upon assessed property, and no process shall issue to enforce the collection of the same except against assessed property.

Every person liable for such tax shall, before being allowed to vote, exhibit to the Commissioners of Election his poll tax receipts for two years, issued on the official form,or duplicates thereof, in the event of loss, or proof of payment of such poll taxes may be made by a certificate of the tax collector, which shall be sent to the Commissioners of the several voting precincts, showing a list of those who have paid said two years' poll taxes as above provided, and the dates of payment. It is hereby declared to be forgery, and punishable as such, for any tax collector or other person, to antedate, or alter, a poll tax receipt. Any person who shall pay the poll tax of another or advance him money for that purpose, in order to influence his vote, shall be guilty of bribery and punished accordingly. The provisions of this section as to the payment of poll taxes shall not apply to persons who are deaf and dumb, or blind, nor to persons under twenty-three years of age, who have paid all poll taxes assessed against them. This section shall not go into operation until after the general State election to be held in the year 1900, and the Legislature elected in the year 1908 shall have authority to repeal or modify the same.

  • (my emphasis)

While these restrictions may have proved useful later, when the population as a whole became more literate, by that point the vast majority of the black population had already been disenfranchised.

The question of the poll tax had divided the Constitutional Convention in New Orleans in 1898. As noted above, North Louisiana Democrats lobbied for the poll tax while those from the South of the state opposed it [Perman, Ibid, p142]. The opposition to the poll tax was largely on the grounds that it would also disenfranchise many poor, white voters.

In the end, those in favour of the proposal won the day and Article 198 was adopted, but with the proviso that it could be repealed after 1908.

Residency and record-keeping requirements

Most of the residency and record-keeping requirements adopted in the 1898 constitution were simply re-worded versions of those in the 1879 constitution. However, the additional requirements (for example those introduced in Article 197 of the 1898 Constitution) were not intended primarily to disenfranchise black voters, but rather to prevent the disenfranchisement of large numbers of white voters.

For example, section 5 of Article 197 states:

Section 5. No male person who was on January 1st, 1867, or at any date prior thereto, entitled to vote under the Constitution or statutes of any State of the United States, wherein he then resided, and no son or grandson of any such person not less than twenty-one years of age at the date of the adoption of this Constitution, and no male person of foreign birth, who was naturalized prior to the first day of January, 1898, shall be denied the right to register and vote in this State by reason of his failure to possess the educational or property qualifications prescribed by this Constitution; provided, he shall have resided in this State for five years next preceding the date at which he shall apply for registration, and shall have registered in accordance with the terms of this article prior to September 1, 1898, and no person shall be entitled to register under this section after said date.

  • (my emphasis)

This is the so-called Grandfather Clause.

The date chosen, January 1st, 1867, is significant. That was more than a year before the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (on 28 July 1868), granting citizenship to

"all persons born or naturalized in the United States"

which, of course, included former slaves who had been freed after the Civil War.

The exemptions to the educational or property qualifications set out in this section would thus apply almost exclusively to white men only.


Question: What was the most effective instrument used to disenfranchise the black population in Louisiana?

The main instruments by which this disenfranchisement was effected was through:

a) poll taxes,
b) literacy and comprehension tests,
c) residency and record-keeping requirements.
Q. Of these instruments which were the most effective - specifically in Louisiana?

Beyond the tactics the two most effective strategies to block enfranchisement for 100 years involved intimidation and an iron clad political alliance. These enabled everything which came afterwards which you bring up.

The most effective instrument used to disenfranchise African Americans was murder and the intimidation which sprung from this systemic violence.

In fact the United States Department of Justice was formed to combat the Reign of Terror, which lead up to the 1868 elections which first saw African Americans attempting to use their votes in a national Election.

United States Department of Justice
On February 19, 1868, Lawrence introduced a bill in Congress to create the Department of Justice. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law on June 22, 1870.9

Grant appointed Amos T. Akerman as Attorney General and Benjamin H. Bristow as America's first Solicitor General the same week that Congress created the Department of Justice. The Department's immediate function was to preserve civil rights. It set about fighting against domestic terrorist groups who had been using both violence and litigation to oppose the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Beginning with a wave of Terror Campaign leading up to the 1868 Presidential election which killed thousands of African Americans across the south. Murders and Mass Murders of African Americans empowered disenfranchise campaigns and stifled decent.

Grant Reconstruction and the KKK
At the time of Ulysses S. Grant's election to the presidency, white supremacists were conducting a reign of terror throughout the South. In outright defiance of the Republican-led federal government, Southern Democrats formed organizations that violently intimidated blacks and Republicans who tried to win political power.

Notable Mass Murders in the South over enfranchisement

Racial Violence and Reconstruction
Racial violence in the Reconstruction period took three major forms: urban riots, interpersonal fights, and organized vigilante groups. There were riots in southern cities several times during Reconstruction. The most notable were the riots in Memphis and New Orleans in 1866, but other large-scale urban conflicts erupted in places including Laurens, South Carolina in 1870; Colfax, Louisiana in 1873; another in New Orleans in 1874; Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1875; and Hamburg, South Carolina in 1876.

Beyond the murders and mass murders which spanned reconstruction and famously went on display with Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner murders June of 1964 and Martin Luther King's led civil rights movement of the 1960's (Bull Connors) the Disenfranchise most effective tool was the Redeemer political alliance. This saw the Southern States band together politically to pursue disenfranchisement of Southern Black voters. This alliance protected disenfranchisement campaigns in the south for nearly 100 years and created a southern block of voters in the US Congress and Senate.

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