Evelyn Thomas Butts was born on May 22, 1924. Her mother died when she was young and she was raised by an aunt. Butts later married and had to be the sole provider of her three daughters after her husband became disabled during World War II. She was president of the Oakwood Civic League, which persuaded the city during the 1950s to construct a new middle school so African American students would not have to ride the bus across town to a segregated school.
An active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she was a leader in the civil rights movement in Norfolk, Virginia, from the 1960s through the 1980s. In November 1963, Butts filed the first suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax that Virginia imposed as a prerequisite to voter registration. Annie E. Harper and others from Fairfax County later filed a second suit, both of which reached the United States Supreme Court.
On March 24, 1966, the Supreme Court ruled in the combined cases called Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections that the poll tax was unconstitutional. Butts then organized voter registration drives and founded the Concerned Citizens for Political Education. Evelyn Thomas Butts died in 1993.