On this day 48 years ago, poll taxes on federal elections were made illegal through a new amendment to the United States Constitution. A week after the Maine Legislature ratified the proposed 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution, South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, thus providing the two-thirds majority required for a proposed amendment to become law.
Dating back to the Reconstruction Era, poll taxes were used for decades throughout the South to prevent poor people—particularly African Americans—from exercising their right to vote.
Florida Senator Spessard Holland—who many years earlier had helped repeal Florida’s poll tax—first proposed the 24th Amendment in 1949. Thirteen years later, in September 1962, the amendment was submitted to the states for ratification. And four months after submission, the proposed amendment became law.
At the time of ratification, five states retained the poll tax—Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. The new amendment abolished poll taxes for federal elections, and within a few years poll taxes for state elections would also be abolished (see Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections).
The 24th Amendment helped pave the way for further voting rights legislation, leading to the passage, a year and a half later, of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed disfranchisement practices common across the South.
To learn more about the poll tax—and voting rights in general—take a look at this lengthy contextual report published by the National Park Service.