Slavery Finally Abolished in Mississippi—Just in Time for Black History Month

MississippiIt only took 148 years, but black people in Mississippi are officially free. Like officially officially. They probably thought they were, since this is 2013 and all, and the dark days of enslavement have ostensibly been left in the historical dust. Yet the 13th amendment, that heralded legal add-on that abolished the institution of forced servitude, was never ratified in that state. So even though chattel slavery has long been over, thank goodness, it’s still been on the books and hence, quite legal, up until February 7. This month. In 2013. Oops.

Way to keep up with the paperwork, Mississippi. 

Surprisingly, we have the film Lincoln and a studious moviegoer to thank for the discovery that Mississippi is the last—and longest—holdout against the release of enslaved African-Americans. Dr. Ranjan Batra, a professor at University of Mississippi Medical Center who just became a U.S. citizen in 2008, was inspired to do a little leisurely research after seeing the movie last year (yay for nerds!) He discovered that Mississippi was one of four states to reject the ban on slavery—along with Kentucky, Delaware, and (gasp!) New Jersey—but remained the only one that hadn’t filed the legislative change.

(Kentucky didn’t get around to it until 1976, but still. C’mon Mississippi.)

Apparently the amendment was approved back in 1995 (which was still a long time coming, no?), but it never made it to the Office of the Federal Register and therefore was never made official.

One false move and y’all Mississippians could’ve been back in bondage on a nearly century-and-a-half-old technicality. Scary how these laws just kind of languish, isn’t it? Remember when the Voting Rights Act was floating out there like a big ol’ loophole, too? There are some crazy laws still on the books—in Eureka, Nev., for example, it’s illegal for men with mustaches to kiss women—but others that should be haven’t yet been confirmed for realsies.

The Magnolia State has made Black History Month 2013 all the more meaningful. And the brown people living there can move with the legal confidence and protection they never knew they didn’t already have. You’re welcome.

Which Southern state has done the best progressing beyond that unsavory past?


Image via StuSeeger/Flickr

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