Indian American professor spurs Mississippi to ratify slavery amendment
11th March 2013 · 0 Comments
By Richard Springer
(Special from India West and New America Media) – It’s not often that by deciding to go see a movie you can change history.
Ranjan Batra, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., last November, attended a showing of Lincoln.
The film depicts the political fight that led to passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and features an Academy Award-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.
A Scientist’s Curiosity
The Kolkata-born Batra said in an interview last week that “toward the end of Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis talks about the ratification process for the 13th Amendment that is yet to come, and that the amendment would require ratification by several of the Southern states in order to become law.”
“I am a scientist, and naturally curious,” he noted. “Living as I do in Mississippi, I wondered how the ratification process had fared in the South, and particularly in Mississippi.”
What Batra found out, by visiting website usconstitution.net, was that after the House of Representatives voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1865, following the Senate’s affirmation months earlier, the measure went to the states for ratification.
On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment received the three-fourths’ vote of 36 states needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that failed to ratify the amendment included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi.
Over the next 130 years, states that initially rejected the amendment ratified it: New Jersey in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976.
According to the Jackson-area newspaper site, ClarionLedger.com, there was an asterisk beside the State of 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.”
Was Batra “shocked” to find out that Mississippi had not officially ratified the 13th Amendment?
“Shocked is an overstatement,” the Indian American professor said in an e-mail. “It takes a lot to shock me. More along the lines of embarrassed.”
He decided to see if he could do something about it. Batra spoke to Ken Dale Sullivan, an anatomical-material specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s body-donation program.
When Batra informed Sullivan that Mississippi had never ratified the amendment, the latter recalled the 1995 ratification by state legislators and decided to pursue the matter further.
Sullivan contacted the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register, where he confirmed the basic facts about the state’s failure to ratify the amendment. He was told what steps needed to be taken to complete ratification.
Passed in 1995—Except That . . .
After going to a movie theater to see Lincoln and observing the audience cheering at the film’s conclusion, the Mississippi-born Sullivan decided to do everything in his power to ensure that Mississippi would ratify the amendment, he told the Clarion-Ledger.
Sullivan found a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, which had been approved unanimously in both the state Senate and House. Some legislators hadn’t voted, but there was not a single “nay” vote.
The last paragraph of the resolution called upon the secretary of state to send a copy to the Office of the Federal Register. Why the copy was never sent remains unknown, the Clarion-Ledger said.
Sullivan contacted the office of Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who filed the necessary paperwork to make it official.
Hosemann, on January 30, sent the Office of the Federal Register a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, which had been adopted by the legislatures.
Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back on Feb. 7, that he had received it: “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Batra said that he couldn’t have accomplished it by himself.
“I realized right away that it would be difficult for me to do alone and that I would have to locate someone who had good contacts with and knowledge about the Mississippi political establishment.”
“I was lucky on the first shot,” he added. “Ken Sullivan had run for office three times and knew a lot about what to do and where to find documents. You must understand that Ken did nearly all the work.”
‘Not a History Buff’
“The other person who deserves mention is Stephen J.J. Mount, who ran usconstitution.net,” explained Batra, “where Ken and I learned that Mississippi’s ratification of the 13th amendment was not yet official. Sadly, as I have now discovered, Mount died a year and a half before I saw his website.”
Batra, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, and whose current research focuses on how the frequency of a sound is analyzed by the brain, said he is not “a history buff.” But he is “interested in how history shapes modern politics, and there is a lot of that in Mississippi.”
The asterisk has now been removed from the State of Mississippi.
“I am pleased and honored that I was able to play a small part in seeing that Mississippi’s ratification of the 13th Amendment was made official, Batra said.
This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.