BOSTON (11/29/2021) – On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) testified before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight in support of legislation they filed that would designate July 8th as Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day.
The bills, S.2059 and H.3117, An Act designating July 8 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day, would direct the Governor to issue a proclamation commemorating the day each year.
It is little known that on July 8, 1783, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Constitution of the Commonwealth’s Declaration of Rights rendered slavery unconstitutional. Quock Walker, born to enslaved Black parents in Massachusetts, was the driving force behind this ruling. At 28 years old, after being promised his freedom on multiple occasions, Walker self-emancipated. Shortly after, Walker was found working nearby, was beaten and locked in a barn by his former enslaver. Walker sued his former enslaver 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 and the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court again found that Walker was a free man and this critical decision served as the precedent that ended slavery in the Commonwealth on constitutional grounds and led to Massachusetts becoming the first state in the nation to abolish slavery.
“Bringing awareness to Quock Walker and his story is so incredibly important” said Senator Friedman, Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “Passing this bill is one step we can take to acknowledge the injustices in our history as well as celebrate Massachusetts’ part in setting a nationwide precedent for human rights. I am hopeful that it will soon become law.”
“Learning, evaluating, and remembering our history are critical to knowing how we developed as a society, and commemorating Quock Walker Day allows us to celebrate Black leaders past and present in the Commonwealth while reflecting on the tremendous work we still have left to do,” said Representative Ciccolo, a member of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. “I am pleased that these bills are being considered by my committee, and I look forward to a favorable vote soon to move them forward in the process.”
Founder and President of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington, Sean Osborne, is credited for bringing awareness to Quock Walker and his place in Massachusetts history to the legislature’s attention. After Senator Friedman’s conversation with Osborne, she introduced a resolution in the Senate in July 2020 commending the many community groups and organizations in the Commonwealth who were commemorating July 8, 2020 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day and Quock Walker Day. Friedman, in collaboration with Ciccolo, then filed identical bills in the Senate and House in January 2021 in the hopes of enshrining Quock Walker and his legacy into state law.
“Because of the Quock Walker Trials, Massachusetts was the first state to effectively and fully abolish slavery and became the home of a growing Black middle class that fueled the abolition movement,” said Sean Osborne. “With the formal recognition of Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day, I am looking forward to more communities and school systems across the Commonwealth increasing their understanding of slavery, manumission, emancipation, race enmity and race amity in Massachusetts during the 18th century and using that knowledge to create a more just 21st century.”
In light of his significant place in Massachusetts history, it is altogether fitting to pass S.2059 and H.3117 to remember Quock Walker and officially mark this monumental step toward justice in Massachusetts each year.
The bills are now before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight where they await further consideration.