BOSTON (02/17/2022) – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation that would designate July 8th as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day. The bill, S.2704, was filed by Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and would direct the Governor to issue a proclamation commemorating Quock Walker and his legacy each year.
Quock Walker, born to enslaved Black parents in Massachusetts, was the driving force behind the 1783 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that slavery was incompatible with the constitution of the Commonwealth. 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, 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. This critical decision served as the precedent that ended slavery in the Commonwealth on constitutional grounds and led to Massachusetts becoming one of the first states in the nation to abolish slavery.
“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 Friedman. “Passing this bill 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.”
Sean Osborne, Founder of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington, is credited for bringing awareness to Quock Walker and his place in Massachusetts history to the Legislature’s attention. After thoughtful conversations with Osborne, Senator Friedman 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, also known as Quock Walker Day. Senator Friedman and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) then filed identical bills in the Senate and House in January 2021 in the hopes of enshrining Quock Walker and his legacy in state law.
“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,” Sean Osborne said. “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. 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. And two of Walker’s grandnephews fought in the Civil War, one as a sailor and the other as a soldier. And 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 during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”
An Act designating July 8 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.