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Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Assails Literacy Tests in South

Apr. 10, 1962 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy said that literacy and similar tests were now the principal device used to keep Negroes from voting in the South. He called for prompt action on the Administration’s bill to curb the misuse of such tests. The measure would bar states from denying the right to vote to any person with a sixth-grade education on the ground that he had allegedly failed a literacy or similar test. The Attorney General appeared before the Senate subcommittee on Constitutional Rights. The session quickly turned into a rough battle between the chairman, Senator Sam L. Ervin Jr., and Mr. Kennedy. The North Carolina Democrat argued that the bill was unconstitutional. He said it invaded the rights of states to set voter qualifications. Mr. Kennedy replied that the 14th and 15th Amendments, prohibiting racial discrimination, gave Congress ample authority for this legislation. He mentioned the cases of Negro professors having been found “illiterate,” and said he had many more examples if Mr. Ervin wanted them.

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