BOSTON (7/9/20) – On Thursday, July 9, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington), who both represent Lexington, filed a resolution to recognize July 8th as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, also known as Quock Walker Day, which the Senate unanimously adopted.
In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as “the Quock Walker case,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled to abolish slavery in Massachusetts on July 8, 1783.
Friedman and Barrett learned about Quock Walker when they were approached by members of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL), who educated them about Walker and this significant date in Massachusetts history and asked that they introduce a resolution in the Senate to commemorate it.
“Quock Walker Day aka Massachusetts Emancipation Day is an occasion to celebrate a seminal moment in the long journey towards full citizenship for the Black residents of the Commonwealth,” said Sean Osborne, Lexington resident and President of the ABCL. “From 1783 to today the goal has not changed: equal, unfettered access to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I invite everyone in Massachusetts to use Quock Walker Day as an annual opportunity to identify and remove the barriers to racial equity while celebrating the Massachusetts Judicial Supreme Court decision of July 8, 1783.”
“Our history books don’t always celebrate, or even acknowledge, the many, many achievements of people of color that are critical for us to all be aware of and understand,” said Senator Friedman. “Knowledge of Quock Walker’s important story is essentially nonexistent in the Commonwealth, but it’s an important part of our state’s and our country’s history. I’m grateful for the members of the ABCL for bringing this important date to our attention and teaching us about its significance.”
“The story of Quock Walker marks an historic moment for Massachusetts and our country,” said Senator Barrett. “It’s a story that needs to be told. I’m grateful to the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington for sharing it with the people of Massachusetts.”
Quock Walker was born in Massachusetts as an enslaved black person. Despite being promised freedom by his enslavers, this promise was never fulfilled. As a result, when he turned 28 years old, Walker chose to self-emancipate, but his actions were met with beatings from his enslaver. On June 12, 1781, Walker sued his enslaver for battery, and a jury found Walker to be a free man under the Massachusetts Constitution.
Walker’s case was appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and, on July 8, 1783, the Court ruled that the Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights renders slavery unconstitutional in the Commonwealth – officially ending slavery as a legal practice in Massachusetts.