A century and a half after slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, Mississippi finally chose to officially ratify the amendment thanks to Oscar nominated movie “Lincoln.”
Last November, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Ranjan Batra, saw the Steven Spielberg movie and wondered afterward whatever happened when each of the states voted on official ratification.
That night, Batra, who is a native of India and became a U.S. citizen in 2008, did some research on the usconstitution.net website, learning the rest of the story.
According the information on the website, after Congress officially voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1864, the measure was to go before the states for ratification.
On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment got the three-fourths' vote needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States who 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 who had initially rejected it. New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976.
However, there was an asterisk beside Mississippi with a note that read: “Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official.”
The next day, Batra spoke with Ken Sullivan, who is an anatomical material specialist for UMC’s body donation program. When Batra advised him that Mississippi had never ratified the amendment, Sullivan stated that he remembered state lawmakers had voted to ratify the amendment in 1995, when he was a senior at Crystal Springs High School.
Once Batra shared what he had read online, Sullivan started researching. He contacted the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register, confirmed Mississippi had yet to officially ratify the amendment and found out what paperwork was missing.
That weekend, Sullivan went to see “Lincoln,” which details the 16th president’s fight to finally abolish slavery.
“People stood up and applauded at the end of it,” he said. “That’s the first time I ever saw an audience do that. I felt very connected to the history.”
Sullivan then 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 a mystery.
“What an amendment to have an error in filing,” said Dick Molpus, who served then as secretary of state.
“Thanks to Ken Sullivan for being a good citizen in bringing this oversight to light, so it can be corrected.”
That “Lincoln” played a role pleases him, he said. “It was one of the most inspirational movies I’ve ever seen.”
After seeing “Lincoln,” Sullivan contacted the office of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who agreed to file the paperwork and make the ratification official.
On Jan. 30, Hosemann sent the Office of the Federal Register a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, adopted by both the Mississippi Senate and House.
On Feb. 7, Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back that he had received the resolution: “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
To be a part of something historic, to see the 13th Amendment finally ratified pleases Sullivan. “Now it’s officially filed and recorded,” he said. “There’s no asterisk by Mississippi any more.”