Steven Spielberg Technically Ended Slavery In Mississippi

By Morris M. on Saturday, November 30, 2013
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“Ah, Nothing is too late / Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamus”

In A Nutshell

Steven Spielberg has done a lot for the past few generations. Without him we’d have no Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, or Jaws, and slavery would still be legal. It’s true: Thanks to an oversight, Mississippi still hadn’t ratified the 13th Amendment at the start of this year—meaning slavery was still technically on the books. It was only when an academic became curious after watching Spielberg’s Lincoln that the mistake came to light.

The Whole Bushel

One hundred forty-eight years ago, the American Civil War finally reached its blood-soaked conclusion. With the bodies barely underground, the Lincoln administration rushed to push through the 13th Amendment—a little bit of constitutional tweaking that finally abolished slavery. With three-quarters of the States on board, the amendment was enacted into law, with the remaining quarter left to ratify it in their own time. For some states (such as Kentucky and Delaware), this meant petulantly dragging their heels for 50 or even 100 years. But for Mississippi, the ratification process would take much longer and be much, much weirder.

Nearly 150 years after the amendment became law, a Mississippi academic named Dr. Ranjan Batra happened to go and see a little film called Lincoln. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it told the tale of—surprise—Abraham Lincoln and his quest to get slavery formally abolished. Inspired by the movie, Dr. Batra began researching what happened after the 13th Amendment was passed—at which point he stumbled across an interesting tidbit.

According to a “Constitution interest site” he found, his home state had forgotten to inform the US archivist after signing in 1995, meaning slavery was still technically on the books (though obviously illegal). He discussed the matter with colleague Ken Sullivan, who quickly got in touch with the Mississippi Secretary of State, who in turn quickly ratified the amendment and brought the state finally up to speed on that whole “slavery” thing. Had Spielberg not made such an awesome movie, Dr. Batra may have never made his discovery, and Mississippi might have carried on as the last slave state for centuries to come. As contributions to society go, that almost makes up for nuking Indiana Jones in a fridge.

Show Me The Proof

The Guardian: Mississippi ratifies 13th amendment abolishing slavery . . . 147 years late
LA Times: 148 years later, Mississippi ratifies amendment banning slavery