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'The Meanest, Dirtiest, Low-down Stuff'; Texas, The State Of Voter Suppression

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Lucio Vasquez for Texas Public Radio
Alanna Gaskin, president of Prairie View A&M's student government association, leads a student march to the Waller County Community Center to participate in early voting.

Texas has a long, documented history of making voting difficult — sometimes impossible — especially for communities of color.

With the poll tax, literacy tests, the white primary and voter intimidation since the end of Reconstruction, the white establishment of Texas was able to use overt and heavy-handed methods against citizens of color to bar them from the polls.

After a national movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and eventually enforced. But voter suppression in Texas didn’t just go away.

If Texas were to have a capital of voter suppression it would Prairie View A&M — a historically Black university. Prairie View A&M is located about 50 miles northwest of Houston in rural Waller County. It was the second public university established in Texas by the legislature in 1876. It’s built on a former slave plantation called “Alta Vista.” And it’s notorious for making the right to vote a struggle.

Waller County has a population that is mostly white, and Prairie View A&M is the largest concentration of Black voters in the county — roughly 20% of the county’s population.

After President Nixon signed the 26th Amendment in the 1970s, which extended the right to vote to 18-year-olds, Waller County officials stepped up their efforts to suppress voters from Prairie View A&M.

They could be a powerful voting bloc, if they were allowed to vote.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi