Poll Taxes

The other month we sent a few boxes of the Legett collection off-site to be digitized and uploaded to the West Texas Digital Archives. They came back this week.

Whenever objects leave their home, we keep detailed lists and records to double check whatever is sent off is returned in the same condition it left.

Think of Santa making his list and checking it twice. We don’t want anything to fall through the cracks.

Today’s post is inspired by papers read while in-processing the Legett collection:

Poll Tax Receipts

Poll Tax Receipt for K.B. Legett, 1919
Poll Tax Receipt for K.B. Legett, Jan. 19, 1929


Wait a minute…you had to pay to vote? How is that legal?

Poll Taxes emerged in the United States in the late nineteenth century as an extension of Jim Crow Laws.

(For those who need a quick recap of U.S. history: Jim Crow Laws developed to prohibit the recently emancipated African American population from participating as full, free citizens. These laws allowed, and in some instances, encouraged segregation and racism.)

Poll taxes mandated that anyone who wished to vote had to pay a tax before receiving a ballot. This monetary restriction kept poorer individuals away from the polls, and turned voting–a U.S. citizen’s right–into a privilege for only those who could afford it.

As I’m sure you could imagine, preventing certain demographics from voting kept opinions from being heard and legislature from changing. And as as result, any time the poll tax was on the ballot to determine whether or not to keep it, those who would have voted to disband the tax, could not afford to vote, thus allowing the cycle to continue.

Now, take a look at those receipts above. In 1919, K.B. Legett paid $1.75 to be able to vote. This may not seem like a lot of money today; however, if an individual is making 20¢ per hour, that poll tax is a significant percentage of that salary, making voting a nonstarter.

In Texas, poll taxes were in effect from 1902-1966.

So, the next time you have the chance, go out and vote!

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