THE POLL TAX has had its day. It is not only obsolete as a tax but also as a suffrage requirement. Only five southern states--Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia-- retain a voter poll tax. North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee have repealed it.
Use of the poll tax in the South for suffrage restriction dates back to the disfranchising era of the 1890's and early 1900's. All former Confederate States adopted a poll tax suffrage requirement at this time, commencing with Florida in 1889 and ending with Georgia in 1908. In most instances, the tax was only one of several disfranchising measures. Indeed at the time of its adoption, the poll tax was not considered the most important method of limiting the suffrage in those states where the tax was but a component part of a general program for disfranchisement. Literacy and registration requirements aroused more popular interest and largely overshadowed the poll tax. Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas were the only states that relied upon the tax as their major instrument of legalized disfranchisement.
A combination of factors brought about the adoption of the poll tax and other disfranchising measures. One factor was a desire to find a legal basis for Negro disfranchisement both to preserve white supremacy and ostensibly to purify elections. Another factor of major importance was the Populist party which seriously challenged Democratic supremacy. This party split the whites and led to competition for the Negro vote. The increased importance of the Negro voter produced new fears for white supremacy. The Populist movement also provoked