A middle-aged recent immigrant from India recently set into motion a series of events that eventually led to Mississippi finally retifying the Constitutional amendment banning slavery. The rousing finale of the movie Lincoln served as inspiration. It sounds like a joke, but it's true. And even though it's been nearly 150 years since that fateful day in the Capitol in 1864, Mississippi's becoming the final state to officially ratify the Thirteenth Amendment serves as the final punctuation mark on a dark chapter in American history.
The circumstances for Dr. Ranjan Batra almost inadvertently inserting himself into Mississippi state history are accidental at best. After seeing Lincoln in theaters last November, he went home and did a little bit of Internet research only to discover the Mississippi never got around to actually ratifying the amendement. The state did vote to ratify the amendment back in 1995, nearly 20 years after Kentucky, the second-to-last state to ratify the amendment, held its vote. However, through an apparent clerical error, Mississippi never officially notified the United States Archivist of the ratification, meaning that they've officially been on the side of slavery for a century-and-a-half. (That sounds kind of sensational when you put it like that, but heck, you'd think the state would double check on an issue as big as this.) Batra and his friend Ken Sullivan reported the mistake up the chain of command, and this month, Mississippi finally sent in the paperwork to complete its belated ratification of the Thirteen Amendment.
In a funny way, Batra's adventure fact-checking his state history is the opposite of what Connecticut congressman Joe Courtney's fact-checking the movie. Courtney recently noticed that the movie showed a pair of Connecticut congressmen voting against the amendment, an unthinkable thing for a staunchly abolitionist state like Connecticut. Now, the congressman is wrestling with Steven Spielberg and the studio in an attempt to get the film fixed so that it doesn't cast his state in poor light. But when it's your state that's already cast itself in poor light, like in Mississippi's case, things get serious. Sullivan even got a certificate for setting this one straight.
When all was said and done, Mississippi state officials were pretty humble about their government's little blunder. Said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, whose office filed the final papers this year, "It was long overdue."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.