Mississippi Misstep: State Officials Ban Slavery Nearly 150 Years Later
File this under the “Really? What Took You So Long” chapter of America’s history: Mississippi politicians correct a glaring oversight on the books more than a century after the Civil War and Constitutional amendment banning slavery. Call it ironic, but the Clarion-Ledger reports that Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated drama Lincoln inadvertently played a role in the state officially ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment on Feb. 7, 2013.
Dr. Ranjan Batra, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, saw the film in November and “wondered afterward what happened when the states voted on ratification,” the Jackson, Miss., newspaper explains. “That night, Batra — a native of India who became a U.S. citizen in 2008 — went on the usconstitution.net Web site, learning the rest of the story.” According to the Library of Congress, the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56, and ratified by the states in Dec. 1865 _ formally abolishing slavery in the United States.
“In the months and years that followed, states continued to ratify the amendment, including those that had initially rejected it,” the Clarion-Ledger article reveals. “New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976. But there was an asterisk beside Mississippi. A note read: ‘Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the U.S. archivist, the ratification is not official.'”
Batra pointed out the omission to Ken Sullivan, also of the University of Mississippi, who recalled the 1995 debate over the law and tracked down a copy of the resolution. That weekend, Sullivan took his wife to see Lincoln, the Clarion-Ledger reports. “People stood up and applauded at the end of it,” Sullivan told the newspaper. “That’s the first time I ever saw an audience do that … I felt very connected to the history.”
Batra and Sullivan brought the error to the attention of Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, whose office filed the final papers and sent the resolution to the federal government. “It was long overdue,” Hosemann said.
U.S. Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/index.html
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: http://www.nypl.org/locations/schomburg