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Salem United Inc retells the story of 1741 “Negro Election Day”

  Mon, 08 Apr 2024
Touch Of Thoughts Doreen Wade with a part of her exhibit at the Negro Election Day commemoration   Salem United Inc.
MON, 08 APR 2024 LISTEN
Doreen Wade with a part of her exhibit at the Negro Election Day commemoration / © Salem United Inc.

Doreen Wade, President of Salem United Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Black history, retells the significance of “Negro Election Day”, a historic celebration of the first Black voting system, held every third Saturday of July.

First recorded in 1741, Negro Election Day is an annual celebration with deep roots in which enslaved and free African Americans on the US North Shore elected a “Black King” or “Black Governor” who mediated politically with the colonial government and advocated for the abolition of slavery.

Black and white New Englanders alike attended the holiday, wearing their finest clothes, partaking of election cake, and dancing. The occasion is an important testament to the vibrant culture people of African descent maintained in New England in spite of widespread oppression.

Aspects of West African culture and ceremonial festivities, including traditional dancing, African feasts, and parades, are included in the festival. On July 22, 2022 Negro Election Day was enacted into law as a Massachusetts State Holiday. In an interview with TheAfricanDream.net, Doreen Wade discusses the significance of the celebration.

First democratic system in the colonies
“When I began my research on Negro Election Day, I began to expose a story hidden behind the name Black Picnic. A name that in the 1960’s began burying the title Negro Election Day, further and further into the darkness. But in unmasking Negro Election Day I came upon an enslaved African from Ghana they called Prince Pompey. He was documented as a man of Royal blood,” said Wade to Oral Ofori.

The Prince according to Wade was captured during the slave Trade and sold to Daniel Mansfield of Lynn MA. Black King Pompey and other Africans of royal blood used their heritage to establish the first democratic system, 35 years before the signing of the declaration of independence. It became “the first democratic system in the 13 colonies,” back in 1740, and the first Black Voting System in the United States.

He used the title “Negro” because West Africa where those enslaved were taken from, was at a time called Negroland. The name Negro Election Day was in honour of that land. “They held a 2-week election process beginning with debating, then to an annual 1-day Voter Election, held on the same day as the White Election Day,” Wade said.

She explained that the winner earned the title of King or Governor, and that was how Pompey became Black King Pompey in Massachusetts. The winner paraded through town on a horse, with aides on each side. Others marched while playing fifes, fiddles, drums, and horns.

“After the parade, people gathered on 2 acres of land, later purchased in 1758 by Black King Pompey, for political activities, outdoor feast, socializing and competed in athletic contests, dancing and drinking.”

Black King Pompey would later serve as a mediator and liaison between the slave, elected colonial leaders and white slave owners. They held court trials and deliberated punishment for non-law-abiding slaves in their communities.

Series of name changes
“Negro Election Day’s history is a powerful story of how Slaves of Royal blood turned their tragedy into a positive triumph,” Wade said proudly.

Following its first celebration, Negro Election Day grew within the state of Massachusetts, and it became hosted in the capital city, Boston on the Historic Boston Common. Even though legislation was made to deny blacks from meeting on the Boston Common at the time.

However, it was also held in other locations like Danvers, Marblehead, Lynn and Salem, where it is today. Later, the celebration would go through a series of name changes based on the end of slavery and the right to vote.

“With its new location in Salem MA and the end of slavery allowing Blacks to obtain the right to Vote in mainstream elections, Negro Election Day began to become masked,” murmured Wade with a hint of displeasure, in her interview with Oral Ofori.

She narrated that once the Negro Election Day coronation left Lynn & moved to Salem Willows, the first name change began, it became “Emancipation Day.” Articles were written but women of the community organized the celebration and began calling it “Maids Picnic” to honour workers.

With the name “Picnic,” its legacy value diminished and lost what it represented. When Churches in Lynn, Medford, Chelsea, Cambridge and Boston hosted the celebration, they continued using picnic but called it “Sunday Picnic” and moved it to Sunday not Saturday.

During World War II, celebrating 200 years of Negro Election Day another name change was crafted, “Colored People’s Picnic,” moving it back to Saturday to allow factory and defense plant workers to attend with families and descendants.

Then the late 1960’s came with the Civil Rights Movement, an awareness of Black power where it got renamed to “Black Picnic Day,” merging black pride and honour, however leaving out its original black achievements, according to Wade.

A rebirth through Salem United Inc.
From Wade’s point of view, “people are fighting to maintain the name Black Picnic because political & community leaders are using the historical name ‘Negro’ as some type of negative connotation. No one wants to be reminded of the horrors of slavery,” despite being a crucial part of Black history.

“Historically, our people are saying that the word ‘Negro’ was derived from the white man, that it was used as a negative and demeaning word for Black people. The word Negro became a stereotype, and it caused us to lose a valuable image of a black developed business. However, long before whites used the word it was a part of our cultural heritage. I will not be a part of whitewashing our history, culture or legacy. In order to neutralize the stereotypes, we must reclaim them. I am reappropriating the symbols of our oppressors,” added Wade.

She and two other women decided on the need to initiate a rebirth of the celebration’s original name through her Salem United Inc. Their focus have centered on preserving cultural history, protect ethnic traditions through community engagement and social awareness. Wade holds the opinion that there’s now a “return of black voter suppression,” requiring a rebirth of the historic 1741 Negro Election Day.

Salem United Inc., was founded in 2015 in Salem, a historic coastal city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States, but registered as a 501c3 charitable organization in 2020. Since establishment, it has led a movement in the city that criticises the inequality within the United States voting system as a whole.

According to Doreen Wade,“we call ourselves Salem United to show our unity as a people that travel from Massachusetts and beyond, to attend an annual event centered around the 284 years of Negro Election Day’s celebration,” said Wade in an interview with Oral Ofori of TheAfricanDream.net.

“I also built an exhibit around this history and my goal is to travel to Ghana and follow the path of Prince Pompey to America, bringing back that story to its home; my exhibit. But often this exhibit is denied into museums and halls. It is ignored in the school system, but I find ways to educate the students. I am often degraded; regardless of the accuracy of the documentation,” said added.

She claims she’s also accused of peddling false information because people refused to believe or have her teach the intelligence of the African mind and the magnitude of what these men accomplished.

“This is not just my history, this is our history and I make a plea to you to support my work, this history and this annual event. Ghana Africans who gave their lives to protect their own and the American born African Americans’ who came after them, deserve this honour and more,” she concluded.

Source: TheAfricanDream.net

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