Prof helps fix a historical gap
Outliers has to confess: We love Oscar! And we paid extra attention to one of this year’s big Academy Award contenders, but not only because of its cinematic merits. It seems Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which features Daniel Day-Lewis as America’s 16th president, led one scientist to do some research. And what he turned up helped make a bit of history.
After Ranjan Batra, a professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, saw “Lincoln” in November, he did some serious Googling. The native of India was curious when his adopted state ratified the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and whose 1865 passage by Congress makes up much of the film’s drama. “After a while, you realize this is a part of history you really don’t want to be on the wrong side of,” says Batra, who became a U.S. citizen five years ago.
His Web surfing led him to usconstitution.net, where he was surprised to find that Mississippi had never formally adopted the amendment, and the state Legislature hadn’t even passed it until 1995. After that, a glitch led to a failure to notify the U.S. archivist. That meant the 13th Amendment wasn’t official in the Magnolia State. Batra and others still don’t know what caused the glitch. “I look at it as silly; in 2012, I don’t think anybody in the Legislature would oppose this measure,” Batra says.
He told a colleague, Ken Sullivan, an anatomical material specialist for the medical center’s body donation program. Sullivan’s political connections helped launch an effort to make the amendment official in Mississippi. That happened on Feb. 14, two days after Lincoln’s birthday.
News of Batra’s deeds has attracted some attention, of course. He even received a phone call from Spielberg’s office, as the famed moviemaker wants to send Batra a letter of thanks. Batra is reluctant to take any credit, and said he wishes someone else had led the effort years ago. “It makes you realize that even if you’re one person looking at a computer in a room and you see something that it’s possible to see that into action and start a chain of events that can actually accomplish something,” he says.
Rajan Batra’s efforts led to making a little constitutional history.