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Entries in Slavery (6)

Monday
Feb182013

Mississippi Officially Abolishes Slavery, Ratifies 13th Amendment

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Two medical school colleagues, one an immigrant from India, the other a life-long Mississippian, joined forces to resolve a historical oversight that until this month had never officially been corrected.

The oversight was no small one either. Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery.

The amendment was adopted in December 1865 after the necessary three-fourths of the then-36 states voted in favor of ratification.  Mississippi, however, was a holdout; at the time state lawmakers were upset that they had not been compensated for the value of freed slaves.

Dr. Ranjan Batra, professor of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told ABC News he was inspired to investigate the history of the Thirteenth Amendment in his state after a viewing of the film Lincoln.

“At the end of the story there was an open question about how the ratification process proceeded,” he said.  “Living in the South as I do, I found that a pretty big open question.”

So Batra proceeded to do some investigating of his own, noticing on the website usconstitution.net that there was an asterisk next to the state of Mississippi in connection with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

“Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the U.S. Archivist, the ratification is not official,” reads the statement on the website.  Batra felt compelled to act to rectify the clerical oversight.

“Mississippi gets a lot of bad press about this type of stuff and I just felt that it is something that should be fixed, and I saw every reason that could be done,” he said.  “Everyone here would like to put this part of Mississippi’s past behind us and move on into the 21st century rather than the 19th.”

So Batra enlisted the help of University of Mississippi Medical Center colleague Ken Sullivan, who took an immediate interest in the story, calling the national archives to confirm that they had in fact never received the proper paperwork.  Sullivan then took a trip to the state archives to acquire a copy of the bill.

“The last paragraph [of the bill] directs the Secretary of State of Mississippi to inform the national archives of the law of the ratification which is exactly the way ratification is supposed to proceed, but that hadn’t been done for whatever reason,” said Batra.

Sullivan took his family to see Lincoln and told ABC News the film inspired him further to correct this historical oversight.  “I had that information when I went to see Lincoln that weekend, I knew really what I was fixing to be a part of and it was overwhelming,” he said.  “It was humbling to know that such a big part of the nation’s history and a huge part of my state’s history was involved in this, people stood up and applauded at the end of the movie, the first time I have ever seen that for any movie,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan then contacted the office of the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who quickly agreed to file the required documentation to the National Archives and make the ratification official.  On February 7, Director of the Federal Register Charles A. Barth wrote that he had received the notification. “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote.

“For me it was just important that this part of history was done from our state,” said Sullivan.  “I know we have some dark spots in our history through the South, it still affects people’s opinions about Mississippi today.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jul172012

Jada Pinkett Smith Shines Light on Human Trafficking, Slavery

Paul Morigi/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- Wearing a white t-shirt that declared ‘Free Slaves’ beneath a brown blazer, actress Jada Pinkett Smith testified before Congress today to draw attention to human-trafficking and forced labor, not only in the U.S., but around the world.

“This old monster is still with us,” Pinkett Smith told the Senate committee on Foreign Relations. “This is an ugly, and too often invisible, problem.”

Various estimates indicate that between 21 million and 27 million people are currently enslaved around the world, including an approximation of 40,000 victims in the United States.

“Fighting slavery doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she said. “The costs of allowing it to exist in our nation and abroad are much higher. It robs us of the thing we value most – our freedom. We know what that freedom is worth.”

Pinkett Smith said she became interested in the issue after her daughter, Willow, brought to her attention the Kony 2012 YouTube documentary about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and African children forced into sexual slavery or used as soldiers.

Pinkett Smith was accompanied on Capitol Hill by her husband, actor Will Smith, and their daughter. She also brought along three trafficking survivors to help underscore the gravity of the issue and press Congress for more action.

“We need more adequate funding for programs that can actually, first, protect young women and men who are victims of trafficking and then also the programs that help transition our young people from those traumas into being able to create and develop lives so that they're not only survivors but they are thriving,” Pinkett Smith said. “These young ladies that are here with us today are young women who are not just surviving but they're thriving.”

The survivors did not testify, but stood to be acknowledged during the hearing.

“It is so important for people to be able to see real people that this affected and whose lives were turned completely upside down but who have turned their lives back,” Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the committee, said at the hearing. “Until I came to the Senate and began to learn about this [by working on] this committee, I had no idea that these kinds of things were happening right here in our own country.”

While Congress has authorized legislation, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, multiple times over the past dozen years to combat human trafficking, future funding has yet to be appropriated.

“It's disturbing, obviously, that there are as many people, that it's probably grown, not diminished, even though we've made progress in certain places,” Kerry, D-Mass., added. “There has to be a much more concentrated global effort on this.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan222012

Teacher Who Assigned Math Homework With Slavery Questions Resigns

Hemera Technologies/ThinkStock(ATLANTA, Ga.) -- The third-grade teacher in Gwinnett County, Ga., who assigned math homework that asked questions about slavery and beatings, has resigned and apologized for the incident.

Luis Rivera, who taught at Beaver Ridge Elementary School since 2008, wrote a letter to school officials saying he “cannot apologize enough.”

Rivera resigned during the course of an investigation into the incident.

On Wednesday, district spokeswoman Sloan Roach released a statement regarding the resignation saying, “The principal will move forward immediately to fill the vacancy created by this resignation. As this is a personnel matter, the district will not elaborate further.”

Rivera assigned math homework that included the question, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

Another math problem read, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

Another question asked how many baskets of cotton Frederick filled.

Christopher Braxton told ABC News affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta that he couldn’t believe the assignment his 8-year-old son brought home from of Beaver Ridge Elementary school in Norcross.

“It kind of blew me away,” Braxton said. “Do you see what I see? Do you really see what I see? He’s not answering this question.”

“I was furious,” Braxton said.

“This outrages me because it just lets me know that there’s still racists,” said Stephanie Jones, whose child is a student at the school.

“Something like that shouldn’t be imbedded into a kid of the third, fourth, fifth, any grade,” parent Terrance Barnett told WSB-TV. “I’m having to explain to my 8-year-old why slavery or slaves or beatings are in a math problem. That hurts.”

“In this one, the teachers were trying to do a cross-curricular activity,” Roach said.

Roach said the teachers were attempting to incorporate social studies into math problems.

“We understand that there are concerns about these questions, and we agree that these questions were not appropriate,”
she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan102012

Georgia School Investigates ‘Slave’ Math Problems

Fuse/Getty Images(NORCROSS, Ga.) -- A Georgia school insisted Tuesday there was no “maliciousness” intended when a third grade math quiz asked students to compute the number of beatings a slave got a week and to calculate how many baskets of cotton he picked.

But the Gwinnett County School District has launched an investigation to determine how the offending questions made it onto the students’ homework sheets.

The math homework assignment was given to more than 100 students at Beaver Ridge Elementary school in Norcross, Ga., as part of a social studies lesson, Gwinnett County school officials said. The assignment outraged parents, community activists and members of the Georgia NAACP.

Sloan Roach, a Gwinnett County school district spokeswoman, told ABC News that the students were studying famous Americans and as an attempt to create a cross-curricular worksheet, one teacher used Frederick Douglass and slavery beatings for two of the questions.

Although only one teacher wrote out the controversial questions, another teacher made copies of the assignment and it was distributed to four out of nine third grade classes at Beaver Ridge, Roach said. The school is not publicly naming any of the teachers who are suspected to be involved.

Roach said she agreed that the questions were inappropriate and part of the investigation would be to, “make sure  teachers are writing questions that are appropriate and [sic] respective,” but wouldn’t speculate on what sort of action would be taken against the teachers involved or whether district teachers would be required to have additional training.

“It does not seem there was any intent of maliciousness here, it was just a teacher who wrote some bad questions,” she said. “This was an isolated case involving these teachers at this school and at this grade level.”

Georgia NAACP president Ed DuBose declined to comment, but his office said he has set up a meeting with area superintendent Dr. Gale Hey to discuss this particular matter.

According to Beaver Ridge’s improvement plan for the 2011-2012 school year, one of their objectives is to “increase academic performances in math” for all students, but specifically African-American students.  

Records show that of Beaver Ridge’s 1,261 students, nearly 60 percent are Hispanic, 28 percent are African-American, 5.3 percent are Asian, and 4 percent are white.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug042011

Texas Drought Unearths Long-Lost Slave Cemetery

Comstock/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- One of the worst droughts in Texas history is helping archaeologists unearth a small piece of American history, a graveyard for freed slaves.

While the heat may be taking a toll on crops, livestock and people's livelihoods, it has helped archaeologists uncover two graves that are believed to have been buried for more than a century.

"This grave was actually uncovered by erosion from the water. It was several feet deep years and years ago," Sgt. Hank Bailey of the Navarro County Sheriff's Office told ABC News Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA-TV.

Cemeteries were marked and moved before the Richland Chambers Reservoir in Navarro County, Texas, was filled in the 1980s, but this small cemetery without tombstones went unnoticed.

Human remains were initially discovered in 2009 by boaters when the water level was low, but the water rose quickly and archaeologists and historians have been waiting ever since for the reservoir to reveal the cemetery again.

"It's not one of the great finds of history, but it's important to us on a local level," Bruce McManus, chairman of the Navarro County Historical Commission, told WFAA-TV. "It's one of the lost cemeteries we've been looking for."

The remains that have been found will be reburied elsewhere. For now, investigators are keeping the cemetery's location a secret because they are afraid of looters.

The record heat is not only adding to the local history books, but also to the stress placed on energy providers. The electrical grid is under so much stress that companies are bringing old power stations back to life.

Texas is not alone. Four of the eight largest power grid operators in the U.S. and Canada have set all-time records over the last two weeks.

In Dallas, the heat is supposed to keep on coming. Forecasters predict Dallas will see triple-digit temperatures for at least another week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec202010

South Carolina Secession Draws Debate 150 Years Later

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- It's been 150 years since South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union ahead of Civil War, and Monday the legacy of that watershed moment in American history remains a flashpoint for debate.

Organizers say the "Secession Gala" in Charleston Monday night was to commemorate the event as a show of courage in the face of encroachment by the federal government on state's rights. But some historians and civil rights groups are protesting the event as the glorification of a defense of slavery.

Dozens of Civil War buffs and Confederate reenactors are expected to attend the $100-a-head event, where they will sip mint juleps, nibble on Carolina crab dip and mingle to the tune of "Dixie" in the presence of the state's original Ordinance of Secession, signed in 1860.

Some participants will reenact scenes from the secession convention, according to the program posted on the event website.

"We are commemorating the lives of 170 men of South Carolina in the same fashion that today we celebrate the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence -- that was a secession document from the crown of Great Britain," said Mark Simpson, South Carolina division commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group sponsoring the gala.

"These 170 signers in South Carolina, at the risk of their lives said, 'We are doing what we believe we must do to determine our future.'" Simpson said the spirit of his Confederate forefathers deserves recognition and is still evident in southern politics and culture today.

But during the lead up to the Civil War, historians argue, states' rights meant the ability to preserve the institution of slavery from federal government attempts to bring it to an end. And some say any attempt to separate the issue of state autonomy from the specter of slavery is historical revisionism.

"Slavery was the principal cause of the Civil War, period," said Bob Sutton, chief historian for the National Park Service. "Yes, politics was important. Yes, economics were important. Yes, social issues were important. But when you get to the core of why all these things were important, it was slavery."

The South Carolina chapter of the NAACP planned to hold a silent protest and vigil outside Monday night's gala.

The state of South Carolina marked Monday's anniversary by unveiling a new historical marker in downtown Charleston at the site where delegates signed the original Ordinance of Secession.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio