NRI Doctor Helps Officially End Slavery In The Remaining State To Abolish It In America


WASHINGTON – An India-born research scientist has driven the last forgotten nail in the coffin of slavery in the United States, a shameful casket that was thought to be long buried after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation followed by the 13th Amendment in 1865 abolishing slavery.

Astonishingly though, it turned out that nearly 150 years later, and as recently as last November, one state — Mississippi — had not ratified the Amendment because of a combination of ennui, bureaucratic ineptitude, and plain oversight. In other words, it had never officially abolished slavery.

Dr Ranjan Batra’s adventures and his activism in this regard began with watching Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln in Jackson, Mississippi, where he is a professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University Medical Center. The movie ends with the US Congress passing the 13th Amendment ending slavery. Curious to know how the states voted on it, Batra, who became a US citizen only in 2008, went online to learn rest of the story.

That’s when he saw on a history website an asterisk against Mississippi that piqued his curiosity.

It turned out that after Congress voted for the 13th Amendment in January 1864, the measure went to the states for ratification. By December 1865, the amendment had 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 Ole Mississippi down south.

In the months and years that followed, states continued to ratify the amendment even as the urgency receded since it had become law on the strength of the 3/4ths vote. New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901, Kentucky in 1976, and Mississippi finally rolled in by 1995.

But some cock-up caused Mississippi to never notify the ratification to the US Archivist, without whose imprimatur it is not considered official. Hence, the asterisk.

Dr Batra then ran this by his colleague Ken Sullivan, a native-born Mississippian who had run state office and who was therefore more familiar with legislative processes. Sullivan checked with the National Archives, and found it had never received a copy of the 1995 Mississippi Senate resolution that had passed unanimously.

After much to-ing and fro-ing between parties concerned, the required paperwork was filed in January this year, according to the local Clarion-Ledger newspaper, which first reported the story. Ironically, the Clarion-Ledger was a segregationist paper that trashed the civil rights movement and was dubbed the “Klan Ledger” (after KuKluxKlan) before it cleaned up in the 1970s.

On February 7, just about two weeks ago, Charles Barth, director of the Federal Register, acknowledged receipt of the ratification and confirmed that “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” The asterisk was removed, turning the India-born into an unlikely star.

“When I was young, I used to sleep in history class in India,” Dr Batra, an alumnus of Kolkota’s La Martiniere and Doon School joked with this correspondent in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “Later I realized history shapes who we are.”

Sullivan himself remarked on the unlikely pairing of an immigrant from India and a life-long southerner working together to resolve the oversight in an interview to ABC News. “You have Dr. Batra, who is the immigrant and me who is the native-born, life-long resident of Mississippi, it was a unique pair,” he said.