This month, Mississippi took one small leap forward and became the last state in the union to officially ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery.
Originally ratified in 1865, it only took the Mississippi legislature 148 years and inspiration from the Oscar-nomiated film “Lincoln” to get it done. According to the Huffington Post, University of Mississippi Medical Center professor Dr. Ranjan Batra saw the film last year and was inspired to find out what happened after states voted on the amendment. His research uncovered that while Mississippi originally voted to reject the 13th Amendment, the state legislature eventually voted to approve the amendment in 1995. Despite the fact that the measure had passed both legislative chambers, nobody ever got around to letting Washington know by forwarding the measure on to the Office of the Federal Register. When Bantra and another Mississippi resident brought the oversight to the attention of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, he filed the paperwork and ratification was official February 7.
It’s easy to crack jokes at Mississippi’s expense here. Resisting the idea that human beings have the right to be free from bondage and cannot be converted to property for over 100 years is bad. Taking another 20-some years to simply put the issue to bed is also bad and emblematic not of an evolving acceptance that slavery is bad and those other than white, Christian men have basic human rights as well, but the opposite. Even if the filing oversight is simply the product of lax oversight, that lack of seriousness is bred in part from a culture that simply will not give ground on this issue.
Neo-confederates can insist the resistance to civil rights reforms are about the idea of limited federal government and not about race. But in this country, the two are forever and inextricably linked together, and if we think otherwise we simply need to look at how Mississippi, as a governing body, has handled the 13th Amendment issue.
It’s also important to reflect on the fact that, in 2012, we have just now finished the work of amending our Constitution to undo the structures put in place, by our own government, to prop up the institution of slavery. And it’s happening at a time when many on the right are intent on taking down the structures we’ve put in place to remedy the structural inequalities perpetuated by an economy built by slaves. The Supreme Court is considering throwing out key protections in the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, while Republicans in Congress attack Medicaid, public education and push policies that expand policing of our communities of color. Mississippi finally ratifying the 13th Amendment isn’t a sign of how far we’ve come as a country on the issue of race and bondage, but how far we have yet to go.
Photo from change of venue via flickr.