Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

August 1, 1940

On August 1, 1940, the Los Angeles Sentinel ran a front page editorial calling for the abolition of the poll tax. “The poll tax is one of the most effective and vicious instruments for disfranchisements ever devised,” the editors wrote. “In the southern states, as in all tenant farming areas, there is a scarcity of cash and many voters simply cannot spare a dollar to pay the poll tax. In effect, the poll taxes disfranchise the poorer elements in the community and restrict voting to the well to do.Thus officials are always elected by a minority of the voters...As a result, a southerner can perpetuate himself in congress for years by reason of seniority [and] can rise to head of all-important committees where he can, and does, work to throttle all progressive legislation.”

The Sentinel concluded, “We will never be able to enforce our citizenship rights until our right of suffrage is secure and we will never have that right of suffrage until the poll tax is wiped off the statute books of every state.”

The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ratified in January 1964) outlawed poll taxes for federal elections. At the time five states maintained poll tax laws: Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. The Supreme Court banned poll taxes in state elections in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966)  

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