Halls Hill Resident Fights Virginia’s Poll Tax to the U.S Supreme Court

Mrs. Jessie Butler Refuses to Back Down

The poll tax in Virginia originated when it was still a colony int he first meeting of the General Assembly in 1619. At that time it was not a prerequisite for voting, that was not instituted until 1876 when the state constitution was amended.

As the Encyclopedia of Virginia notes, the “State Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 met for the express purpose of disfranchising as many African American voters as possible [and they] reinstituted the poll tax as a prerequisite for voter registration.” 

In 1950 Mrs. Jessie Butler, a resident of Halls Hill, began a fight to eliminate the requirement for payment of the poll tax. It began in Federal Court where the state attorney general attempted to have the case dismissed. Note they tried to blame the low number of Negro residents who have registered due the the “shifting population.”

Mrs. Butler then filed another lawsuit against the Arlington County Registrar and other officials who prevented her from voting because she failed to pay the poll tax. In the original case, Mrs. Butler was unsuccessful with the federal judges in Alexandria. Undeterred, she decided to appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appeal failed when the court upheld the Virginia Poll tax.

Mrs. Butler’s attorney, John Locke Green requested his name be withdrawn as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar in his continuing opposition to the Poll Tax. In March 1966, fifteen years after Mrs. Butler’s appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled the Virginia Poll Tax unconstitutional in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.

Read more Halls Hill history in My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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