Evelyn Butts — Civil Rights Warrior

Evelyn Butts (1924–1993), a Norfolk seamstress, civil rights activist, and community organizer, helped strike down the poll tax—one of the most effective means by which Virginia and other Southern states disenfranchised Black voters during the Jim Crow era.  

As a plaintiff in Harper v. Virginia Board of Electors, she sued the Commonwealth claiming that the poll tax disproportionately affected poor Americans. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1966 declared the tax unconstitutional. 

Butts was also active in local politics. She led voter registration drives and co-founded the Concerned Citizens for Political Education. This organization helped elect Norfolk’s first Black city councilor (1968) and House of Delegates representative (1969). 


This article was featured in the Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, Vol. 128, No. 2 in connection with the VMHC exhibition, Agents of Change: Female Activism in Virginia from Women’s Suffrage to Today

Photograph of Evelyn Butts
Evelyn Butts. (Courtesy of Charlene Butts Ligon)
Photograph of Ruth Tinsley in Richmond being dragged by police.
Women were important, though often-overlooked, heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Here, Ruth E. Tinsley is shown being dragged away by police from a protest outside Thalhimer’s department store in Richmond on February 24, 1960. (Library of Congress)