BOSTON (11/04/2022) – On Tuesday, November 1, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law H.3117, An Act designating July 8 as Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day. The law directs the Governor to issue a proclamation commemorating the day each year. Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington) sponsored the legislation in the Massachusetts Senate and the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
In 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. 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.
“Today, we took an important step to acknowledge the injustices in our state’s history, as well as celebrate the Commonwealth’s part in setting a nationwide precedent for human rights,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I sincerely thank Sean Osborne of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington for enlightening me on Quock Walker and this little-known piece of our state’s history, as well as Representative Ciccolo for filing a version of this legislation in the House. With this new law, we can lift up the legacy of Quock Walker and the many other pioneering forces behind the abolitionist movement in the Massachusetts, and we can use his fight and others as inspiration as we work towards a more just and equitable Commonwealth.”
“It was great to partner with Senator Friedman to lift up the work of ABCL Founder Sean Osborne and advance this important project through the Legislature,” said Representative Ciccolo, a member of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. “Now and for all generations to come, we will celebrate Quock Walker and the impact his Supreme Court case had on our society. Massachusetts should be proud of its early abolition of slavery, but even more proud of the righteous pioneers like Quock Walker and Mum Bett whose courageous voices tested our early constitution and helped bring about a more just and equal society. There is still much work to be done to advance freedom and equality, including in Massachusetts, but telling the history of Quock Walker’s story helps us reflect on our past and motivates us to do more. It was an honor for me to be able to work on this effort and I am beyond pleased to see this bill passed into law.”
Sean Osborne, Founder and President of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington, is credited with bringing awareness to Quock Walker and his place in Massachusetts history to the Legislature’s attention. After a conversation with Osborne about Quock Walker, 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 and Quock Walker Day. Friedman, in collaboration with Ciccolo, then filed identical bills in the Senate and House in January 2021 to enshrine Quock Walker and his legacy into state law.
“In 1783, the contest between Liberty and Property was won by Liberty thanks to Quock Walker’s audacity, faith, and fortitude,” said Sean Osborne. “When Quock Walker walked away from enslavement to employment at a nearby farm in April 1781, he was exercising his constitutionally protected rights to seek and obtain safety and happiness. His freedom and the right to be safe and happy would not have been upheld by the juries of the Worcester Cases if the 1778 state constitution had been passed by the voters of Massachusetts. The 1778 state constitution recognized slavery as a legal institution and excluded Negros from voting.
“Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day offers communities and schools across the Commonwealth the opportunity to explore how the Akan values of the Gold Coast of West Africa blended with the values enshrined in the 1780 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to free the eldest child of Mingo and Dinah and to abolish slavery in Massachusetts. The blending of cultures created a better society and made Massachusetts the home of a growing Black middle class that fueled the national abolition movement. It’s worth noting that the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Mingo and Dinah were abolitionists as well.
“I am looking forward to the residents of Lexington, where Black Patriots and their neighbors fought in the first military engagement of the Revolutionary War; and the residents of Barre, where Quock Walker lived, self-emancipated, bought property, married, and died; and all of Massachusetts making personal connections to Quock Walker’s story and to building upon his legacy to make the Commonwealth a more just place to exercise our natural, essential, and unalienable rights.”
The first official commemoration Massachusetts Emancipation Day a.k.a. Quock Walker Day will be on July 8, 2023.