COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133
Senator Joan B. Lovely
2nd Essex District
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 2, 2022
Senate Passes Bills to Recognize Holidays Honoring Black History
Legislation would make Quock Walker Day and Negro Election Day State Holidays
BOSTON– On Thursday, February 17, 2022, the Massachusetts State Senate passed two bills, each designating a new state holiday commemorating Black history in Massachusetts. One bill would designate July 8 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day, while the other would designate the third Saturday in July as Negro Election Day. Both holidays, which have been celebrated in Massachusetts by members of the Black community, would be officially recognized under the proposed legislation.
“You cannot properly celebrate Massachusetts history without acknowledging the achievements, contributions and traditions shared by Black residents of the Commonwealth,” said Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Quock Walker Day and Negro Election Day give recognition to longstanding and uniquely local traditions celebrating the role played by Massachusetts residents in our nation’s history of Black freedom, voting, and self-determination. I thank Senators Friedman and Lovely for their work to elevate the voices of community organizers and historians who called for state recognition of these holidays so that future generations may know and have the opportunity to reflect on the past.”
“In light of Quock Walker’s significant place in our state’s history, it is important that we celebrate his achievements by officially and annually marking this monumental step toward abolishing slavery,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington). “Recognizing Quock Walker Day is one of the many ways the Massachusetts Senate is celebrating Black History Month this year, as we work to acknowledge the injustices in our history as well as celebrate our state’s part in setting a nationwide precedent for human rights. I am thankful to my Senate colleagues for supporting this legislation and am grateful to Sean Osborne and the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington for helping to ensure that Quock Walker’s story receives the recognition it deserves.”
“I am deeply grateful to the Massachusetts Senate for passing my bill establishing Negro Election Day,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem). “This annual celebration illustrates that our communities of color have always been engaged in our Commonwealth’s civic process. This bill celebrates a little known but historically important annual event that has been taking place in Massachusetts since the 18th century. We must continue to commemorate the meaningful milestones African Americans have contributed to Massachusetts and our nation today and in all the days going forward. I would like to thank Salem United and their President Doreen Wade for their unwavering advocacy and support to make this legislation possible and to Senate President Karen Spilka for making this a priority during Black History Month.”
Quock Walker Day commemorates the life of Walker, who was born to enslaved African parents in Massachusetts and was the driving force behind the 1783 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that slavery was incompatible with the constitution of the Commonwealth. After being promised his freedom on multiple occasions, Walker self-emancipated but was nonetheless beaten and locked in a barn by his former enslaver, Nathaniel Jennison. Walker sued Jennison for assault and battery and was found to be a free man by a jury of the Worcester County Court of Common Pleas. This ruling was appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court where the decision was upheld on constitutional grounds. This critical decision served as the precedent that ended slavery in the Commonwealth and led to Massachusetts becoming one of the first states in the nation to abolish slavery.
“I am very happy that the state Senate has passed this legislation recognizing the significant contributions made by Quock Walker to abolish slavery in the Commonwealth,” said Sean Osborne, the Founder of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington who brought the significance of Quock Walker to the legislature’s attention. “When we celebrate Quock Walker Day on July 8, I hope that we recognize that the end of slavery in Massachusetts led to the growth of a sizeable Black middle class in Massachusetts, which fueled the abolitionist movement and filled the ranks of the Union armed forces. Like their contemporaries, the Walker family understood that the fight for equality for Black people in Massachusetts and across the United States did not end in 1783 or with Quock Walker’s generation.”
“Members of the Walker family were active in the Underground Railroad,” continued Osborne. “One of Walker’s nephews was a Black Freemason who, in 1826, helped to form the Massachusetts General Colored Association in Boston. The MGCA is believed to be the first all-black abolitionist organization in the United States and was dedicated to fighting slavery in the USA and racism in the Commonwealth. Two of Walker’s grandnephews fought in the Civil War, one as a sailor and the other as a soldier. When we celebrate Massachusetts Emancipation Day on July 8, I hope that each community comes to appreciate its role in the passage of the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780 and the impact of the Quock Walker Cases of 1781 to 1783 on its residents.”
Negro Election Day originated in 1740, before African Americans were granted the right to vote. Enslaved people in New England held an election of a king or governor, a tradition which brought enslaved and free people together for a system of black self-governance. The tradition then continued even after African Americans were granted the right to vote. During World War II, the event took place on the third Saturday of July, to ensure that African Americans who held critical jobs related to the war effort were able to attend. In the summer of 2021, Salem United, an organization committed to civic engagement and preserving ethnic tradition, organized an exhibit at Hamilton Hall in Salem to display the history of Negro Election Day, honoring this tradition.
“The passing of this bill could not have come during a better time, both during the celebration of black history month and the rise of voter suppression nationwide,” stated Doreen Wade, the President of Salem United, who is credited with bringing awareness of Salem’s tradition of celebrating Negro Election Day. “Bill S.2083 allows Salem United, Inc. the ability to preserve and protect the achievements of enslaved people who transformed their tragedy into a triumph of black excellence by developing the first black voting and governance system. Negro Election Day confirms the contributions and sacrifice of the history of the African American Culture.”
An Act designating July 8 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day and An Act establishing the third Saturday in July as Negro Election Day now head to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.