Some say it takes a village. For others, a cultural revolution. And still some require the outside spark of something moving and dramatic; perhaps a movie. Yes, a movie. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” to be exact. That’s what it took for the great southern state of Mississippi to finally, officially, and very belatedly ratify the Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery… only 150 or so years after Congress voted for the 13th Amendment in 1864.
Given the Confederate bona fides of Mississippi, one might not be surprised by this stunning fact, but other southern states, who also proudly flew the Confederate flag before, during and even after the Civil War, all ratified the amendment and, most, a great many years ago (though not as long ago as you’d think!).
Mississippi? Mississippi just got it done on February 7, 2013.
Why the unfathomable delay? It’s an interesting tale of clerical oversight, intentional or otherwise, and the immigrant from India, now a U.S. citizen, whose enthusiasm for the story of “Lincoln,” with its focus on the 16th President’s push to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, inspired him to find out just when his state of Mississippi came on board in signing the amendment into law.
That’s when he found out it hadn’t.
Ranjan Batra, an associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, had been so moved by “Lincoln’s” story that he spent some time researching the issue on various websites and, without fail, the state of Mississippi, which did ratify the amendment in 1995, came up with an asterisk next to its name, with the notation that because “the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official.” From the Clarion-Ledger:
After Congress voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1864, the measure went to the states for ratification.
On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment received the three-fourths’ vote it needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that rejected the measure included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi.
In the months and years that followed, states continued to ratify the amendment, including those that had initially rejected it. New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976.
But Mississippi had that asterisk.
Batra was stunned by the discovery, finding it profoundly amiss that his state, any state, in modern times was still without the official ratification of that very important amendment.
He sought the aid of colleague, Ken Sullivan, told him of the “asterisk” he’d discovered, and Sullivan was duly intrigued. He remembered when the state ratified the amendment in 1995, remarked that he’d been in high school at the time, but had no idea it had never been made official. Sullivan, too, went to see the film and, as moved as Batra, became equally determined to sort out the Mississippi mess.
Picking up Batra’s thread, Sullivan contacted the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register, where it was confirmed that Mississippi had, indeed, never taken steps to formally ratify the amendment. Sullivan gathered the information needed and set out to get it done.
He tracked down a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, introduced by state Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, who had been upset to learn Mississippi was the only state that had never ratified the 13th Amendment.
The resolution passed both the Mississippi Senate and House.
“It was unanimous,” Frazier recalled. “Some didn’t vote, but we didn’t receive a ‘nay’ vote.”
The last paragraph of the resolution called on the secretary of state to send a copy to the Office of the Federal Register.
Why the copy was never sent in 1995 remains unknown. [… ]
“What an amendment to have an error in filing,” said Dick Molpus, who served then as secretary of state. [Source]
Indeed. What an amendment.
The current Secretary of the State of Mississippi is Delbert Hosemann. Sullivan contacted his office, explained the situation, and Hosemann agreed to file the necessary paperwork to make the ratification official.
On January 30, 2013, Hosemann forwarded a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution papers – which were adopted by both the House and the Senate – to the Federal Register. On February 7, 2013, the director of the Federal Register, Charles A. Barth, verified that he had received the resolution, declaring:
“With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”[Source]
And, with that, the red state of Mississippi joined the very red, white and blue United States of America in officially abolishing slavery.
As Henry David Thoreau said:
“It’s never too late to give up our prejudices.”