State Senator Cindy Friedman and Sean Osborne with the Governor’s Quock Walker Day proclamation / Credit: Jason Cromartie

On Saturday, July 8,  the Commonwealth of Massachusetts celebrated its first Quock Walker Day, also known as Massachusetts Emancipation Day, commemorating the end of slavery in Massachusetts. 

In 1781, Walker challenged his own enslavement in court, arguing that slavery went against both the Bible and the state constitution. His case eventually led to Massachusetts being one of the first states to abolish slavery.

To learn more about the story of Quock Walker and how the day came to be, The Lexington Observer sat down with Sean Osborne, cofounder of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington and a historian who helped raise the awareness about Quock Walker’s role in American history.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: Who is Quock Walker? And why does his legacy continue to live on in Lexington?

Sean Osborne: Quock Walker was an enslaved farmhand in Barre, MA, in Worcester County.

What’s great about his story and his legacy is he self-emancipated in 1781, he was assaulted by his former enslaver a month later, and then he took him through court and won. His 1783 State Supreme Court case didn’t just confirm that he was free, it also ended slavery in the state. That’s a bonus.

You end up with Quock Walker setting his path, and then his siblings following down that path and driving it further, with one younger brother becoming a farmer in Barre and voting often, his sister Minor and her family moving to Cambridge, and her son Walker Lewis pushing for civil rights in Massachusetts and the end of slavery across the country. 

It’s those people who decide that I’m going to make the most of the situation and push forward through the headwinds, which is part of life. I love to uplift those stories, so people understand that yes, life is going to be hard. You can push through it and be like Quock Walker. Your story may not be widely known for many years or centuries, but that doesn’t in any way diminish your accomplishments.

Q: How did you get involved in making July 8th Massachusetts Emancipation Day, aka Quock Walker Day?

The person who ended slavery in Massachusetts was Quock Walker. So I was like okay, who was this Quock Walker guy? The more I learned, the more in love I became with his story.

And then we as a country started talking about making Juneteenth a national holiday. I love Juneteenth. My family is from Texas, I appreciate Texas Emancipation Day. But that was 1865. 1783 was, I thought, the more important date. Without Quock Walker, you don’t have Juneteenth. 

If you talk about the ending of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, then you’ve talked about the fact that there was slavery in Massachusetts. Which makes you look at the founding differently. 

Why was Massachusetts where Paul Cuffe and Frederick Douglass and so many other folks did wonderful things in the 1700s and 1800s. It’s because you had so many tax-paying black people in the early 1700s. With the ending of slavery in the1780s, you now have this vibrant community for people who are looking to go their own way.

Q: Tell us about the events that took place this year on Quock Walker Day, particularly those you took part in. 

This was ABCLs third annual Quock Walker Day [it was the first state-wide celebration], so we started off the day with a hike for freedom — a 3.3 mile trek on the ACROSS Lexington trails and that is to commemorate the five miles or so that Quock Walker hiked in April of 1781.

Charlie Price, keynote speaker, talking about Prince Estabrook during the open ceremony of community celebration.

Later that morning we had a community celebration at the Visitor Center lawn. Both Select Board Chair Joe Pato and State Senator Cindy Friedman spoke. We also had Charlie Price, Lexington Minute Man who’s been sharing the life of Prince Estabrook for decades now.

We had Dr. Kerima Lewis from Emerson College talk about the Walker Lewis families of Lowell, and the work that they did with the Underground Railroad. Civil War, and civil rights in the Lowell area. We had the William Diamond Junior Fife & Drum Corps. We had Crocodile River Music out of Worcester — they played mainly a central African type of music, because that’s where most of the performers are from. Worcester had a Quock Walker Day celebration as well, and the Quock Walker Day proclamation was read in Lowell, Brockton and Conway. I was really happy to see it be in so many different counties.

Quock Walker Day Proclamation displayed by Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll during Red Sox pregame ceremonies

A friend of my father’s said, now that you have passed the bill, “what are you going to do to make it go big?” I was going to relax for a few minutes. He said go ahead and talk to the sports teams, and as God would have it, the Red Sox had a regularly scheduled home game on July 8. We got to do a great pregame presentation with the Lieutenant Governor. I’d never been on the field before. So it was nice to be able to share that event with the thousands of people who were there at Fenway.

Q: What change do you hope comes from the state recognizing the day?

Definitely the education. I’ll be talking to different educators across New England at History Camp Boston about the Quock Walker story and giving them some ideas on how to talk about it. So hopefully that will make it easier for them to incorporate the Quock Walker story into their curriculum. 

It’s not just Black Massachusetts history, it’s Massachusetts history. I’m hopeful that as other communities look at their colonial history, that they put their spin on it as well. In Massachusetts, the vast majority voted for the 1780 constitution, which was a big change from the previous constitution that was more pro slavery. The majority of the white male voters of Massachusetts, consciously or unconsciously, were in favor of that. And that’s pretty cool, because no other state of the 13 colonies in 1790 chose that path. Rhode Island didn’t fully abolish slavery until the 1840s. So this is important because everybody has problems, but it’s nice to point out where you are exceptional too and embrace that. 

Join the Conversation


  1. What an amazing journey of freedom and Black agency that is being continued by Mr Sean Osborne. Mr Sean Osborne deserves every accolade he receives for the hard work he has done and continues to do!

  2. Thank you Sean for doing the hard work to establish an official day to celebrate the actions of Quock Walker that benefit all of us — in Lexington, in Massachusetts and in the USA who for too long have failed to correct the ravages of enslavement.

    The truth of history needs to be preserved. Thank you.

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