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African-American Oral Histories

Tommy Wyatt
Clip 5: Transcript

Voting Rights Act

Running Time: 4 min 6 sec

TW: One of the things that the Voting Rights Act did is eliminate the ridiculous requirements for qualifications for voting in Texas. You see we had the poll tax, and so in most states you had the exam, the test they’d give you. There were some ridiculous questions and if you could answer you could vote. So that’s the one thing the Voting Rights Act did was eliminate those unnecessary barriers to voting. But the big thing the Voting Rights Act did was not just remove the barriers, but it also set up a system whereby if you felt you were discriminated against in voting, you could call for the federal people who would come in and investigate, you see? And that’s why people keep talking about keeping the Voting Rights Act, renewing the Voting Rights Act.

And it’s been a misnomer. Many people believe when the Voting Rights Act expires then Blacks will not have a right to vote, and that’s not the case. What happens is, the Voting Rights Act as it’s written now expires, it means that the federal government will no longer have a right or an option to come into your community to investigate voting irregularities, as they had to do in Florida in 2002, ah, 2000. So that’s what the Voting Rights Act is there for, in case there is, if you have a charge of voting irregularities then you can call the federal government and they in turn can send the federal investigators in to investigate whether anybody’s right to vote was violated. And so that’s the one thing. But the other thing it did was just remove those restrictive barriers to voting. I remember, before that we used to go out before the voting deadline, before the registration deadline, we’d go around to bars and get people to pay their poll tax. Take a Saturday night, we’d spend Saturday night all night going to bars, and going from table to table, “Give me your dollar seventy-five and sign this thing and that’ll get you registered to vote,” see? But that’s the way we got people registered. Can’t do that now you know, you know [laughs], but that’s the way we did it. But if you didn’t pay a dollar seventy-five you wasn’t going to be registered and you couldn’t vote.

AS: Did most people pay the poll tax?

TW: The people we talked to did. But there were a number who didn’t. There were a number who didn’t. You know because a dollar seventy-five’s a dollar seventy-five. I’ll pay it and you pay it, that’s three fifty in this household and I got a kid that’s, I mean, you get people without a lot of money. And another thing about it, if you didn’t plan to vote anyway I mean, why spend your money, you know? You got a lot of people today who’ve got voter registration cards but they don’t use them, and they’re getting them free. So people who paid the dollar seventy-five were people that you could pretty much count on that they would vote.

AS: When you say we would go around to bars, do you mean?

TW: Well a group of people. I mean we’d set up teams, you know. When you got close to the voter registration deadline [we’d] set up teams that go around to bars and so forth, and just take a, you know, you’d go ahead and get people to sign and collect the money. You have to collect the money and you have to turn it in to the voter registration office along with the application, the voter registration application. So we had teams that signed up to do it. Just like we have now, you have a deputy registrar who would be in charge, and they in turn would help get more people to help them to go around and collect this information, and they would collect it and turn it back in to the County Clerk’s.

“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.

Tommy Wyatt

Tommy Wyatt

Amy Steiger

Date of Interview:
April 15, 2004

The Villager office, 1223-A Rosewood Ave., Austin, Texas

Recording Format:
Analog tape

Amy Steiger