GREENSBORO, N.C. — For nearly seven decades, Henry and Shirley Frye have enjoyed married life. Their wedding day was memorable, although not for all the right reasons.

“I didn't see him until it was time for the wedding, and I was walking down the aisle on my dad's arm, and he was smiling as I was coming up,” Shirley Frye said. “As soon as I got to the altar, you know, when the minister pulled you together, he whispered to me and said ‘Do you know they wouldn't let me register to vote today?’ And I said ‘Can we talk about it later?’”

What You Need To Know

  • The literacy test is still in the North Carolina Constitution

  • The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 voids the test

  • There is a bipartisan effort in the state legislature to repeal the test

  • The test gave registrars the power to deny people the right to vote

Her husband, who is now known as Chief Justice Henry Frye, was the first Black man to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court. He also was a representative in the state legislature. But on their wedding day, he was simply a young college graduate trying to register to vote.

When Shirley Frye had gone to register to vote, she hadn’t had any trouble.

“I wasn't asked any additional questions or anything. The only thing I was asked is my name, birthdate and that kind of thing,” Frye said.

Her soon-to-be husband, however, was a victim of the literacy test. His registrar decided to ask additional questions before allowing him to register.

“Who was the 13th president? That kind of thing,” Shirley Frye said. “Henry said, ‘I don't need to answer all those kind of questions.’ He pulled out a book to say ‘Well, they're here in the book, and that if you don't answer, I can't register you.’ And then Henry said, ‘Well, I'm not answering them.’ And he left. And then he came back in, and he said, ‘Do you question whether I am a resident of Richmond County?’ And the person said, ‘Oh, yeah, I know. Your parents,’ called their names ‘and I know that you were the first Negro been admitted to the University of North Carolina Law School.’”

With the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the literacy test is no longer applicable.

But the Jim Crow-era barrier to voting is still in our state’s constitution.

There’s a renewed effort in the General Assembly to remove it from the document.

A piece of legislation, with bipartisan support, is working through the legislature. If it passes in both chambers, it would go to the voters in the next election.

Rep. Kelly Alexander of Mecklenburg County is a primary sponsor of the bill and says it’s important that politicians come together to educate voters on what exactly they would be removing from the North Carolina Constitution.

“At first blush most people would say, 'of course, you should be able to read,' and they won’t click to the fact that it’s not about reading, it’s about interpretation,” Alexander said. “That's why I think politicians of all ideologies of the major parties speaking out, saying, you know, stand with us and let's remove this from the state constitution, and we'll be able to do this to have it to get past the goalpost.”

When Henry Frye was in the legislature, he tried to repeal the literacy test. It made it through the House and Senate, but was voted down by the public.

Shirley Frye says it’s discriminatory, and North Carolina is too good to have the relic in our state’s highest document.

“If you have a person who graduated from high school in that particular county, then went on and graduated from a top-notch university with the highest honors and then be an ROTC person. And you go and you spend two years fighting for your country and then you come back home and you are denied the right to vote. It is unfair,” she said.