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Passing the Test
Penny Angelo

Students in Dr. Panozzo’s class learned what voting looked like for Black Americans during the 50s and 60s in preparation for reading Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham City Jail." Students first watched a video of John Lewis, an American politician and civil rights activist, recounting his experiences during this important time in US history. After a brief discussion, students were then asked to vote on a class mascot whom they would like to represent them. Dr. Panozzo wrote down their votes and then turned to the class to tell them their votes would only count if they could pass a literacy test to prove their intelligence. Of course, upon hearing this news, many students immediately replied, “That’s not fair!” Dr. Panozzo then passed out a copy of The State of Louisiana Literacy Test, a very real test imposed by White officials to intentionally act as a barrier for Black voters. Students paired up to attempt the exam, and many of them struggled to answer the questions as they were written to be intentionally confusing. In the end, none of the students were able to vote, only Dr. Panozzo. Using the initial vote, the students processed what it was like for their voices to be ignored, especially when it came to representation. The class then discussed all of the issues people vote on at a local, state, and national level. This exercise brought history to life for students and provided them with a tangible example of how difficult it was for Black Americans to truly gain equal rights.

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