Treasures of Carolina: North Carolina Constitutional Reader

[This blog post was written by Andrea Gabriel, Outreach and Development Coordinator for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Despite gaining the right to vote in 1870, African Americans could be circumvented from asserting their constitutional rights at the election polls, those in power often requiring literacy tests not required of white voters. The Permanent Registration Act of 1901 required African American voters to read and write any section of the U.S. or state Constitution.  In 1903, St. Augustine’s School (now St. Augustine’s University) published the North Carolina Constitutional Reader, Being a Hand Book for Primary Use in One, a primer “that the unlearned man and lad may commence with the Alphabets and learn step by step how to spell, and to read and write any section of the State Constitution.” G. E. Harris, its author, was a teacher in Littleton, North Carolina. The book contains twenty-four lessons describing the very basics of word spelling and pronunciation. The second half of the book replicates the North Carolina Constitution with each word accented. Lesson three presents Roman numerals that would be encountered in fourteen (XIV) articles in the Constitution.

North Carolina Constitutional Reader, 1903, Vault Collection.

North Carolina Constitutional Reader, 1903, Vault Collection.

This book is evidence that not only did African American males wishing to vote encounter arbitrary obstacles, but also that there were efforts in place to counteract them. Women, black and white, were denied the right to vote until 1920.


A selection of the state’s historic documents will be exhibited in Treasures of Carolina: Stories from the State Archives of North Carolina at the Museum of History, October 24, 2015–June 19, 2016. Documents from the Archives vault, unique letters, historic photographs, public records, and other media will illuminate the myriad of ways in which the holdings of the State Archives document the workings of our government, provide evidence of civil liberties, and preserve the history and culture of North Carolina. This exhibit is sponsored by the Friends of the Archives and runs through June 19, 2016. Additional funding was provided by the N.C. Bar Association Foundation, the Raleigh Times, and Wells Fargo.

To learn more about the exhibit, please see:

For a full list of documents that will be on display only a limited time, see:

See the State Archives Facebook calendar or Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources events calendar for more upcoming events.