To break the stalemate Johnson turned to Martin Luther King. On the night of July 28, Attorney General Katzenbach spoke to King at length about the bill’s problems in the Conference Committee. King detested the poll tax and was disappointed when the Senate rejected the Kennedy amendment on May 12. Nonetheless, he certainly did not want the House ban to threaten the bill from becoming law. Katzenbach promised to add a new explicit statement, formally asserting that the tax deprived blacks of the right to vote, and he promised to order the Justice Department to sue those four states that still required it. King consented and dictated a statement that could be used to placate the liberal opposition.

“While I would have preferred that the bill eliminate the poll tax once and for all,” King’s statement read, “it does contain an express declaration by Congress that the poll tax abridges and denies the right to vote. I am confident that the poll tax provision… —with vigorous action by the Attorney General—will operate finally to bury this iniquitous device.” With the Congress expressing its opposition to the tax, surely the Supreme Court would not reject the will of the people and would eventually abolish the tax…

The first test of the Voting Rights Act came in Alabama’s Democratic primary election  in May, 1966. For the first time since Reconstruction, African Americans ran for state offices and voted in large numbers. But most black candidates lost because of the ironic result of the death of the poll tax. While poor blacks had been empowered, so had poor whites. By eliminating the literacy tests and the poll tax, the Voting Rights Act gave many poor whites the opportunity to register and cast ballots. They elected Lurleen Wallace  as governor, extending the power of her husband who was ineligible to serve another term. A skillful get-out-the-vote campaign by Wallace’s staff added 110,000 new voters to the white majority, decreasing black influence even as the number of black voters grew. This phenomenon was not limited to Alabama. Throughout the South, many of the new registrants were white.