Salem United, Inc. recently unveiled a cultural exhibition, “Unmasking & Evolution of Negro Election Day and The Black Vote,” at Salem’s historic Hamilton Hall. The exhibition, by Salem United President Doreen Wade, tells the history of the black voting system and Negro Election Black Celebration Day through over 20 paintings, banners, and additional artifacts.
The exhibition follows through with Salem United’s mission of preserving cultural history and ethnic traditions while building social awareness, and placing an emphasis on self-identity and self-governing and family values in the community.
In the exhibit, Salem United begins telling the story of Negro Election Day with historical events from 1740. By beginning in 1740, the exhibition places viewers in the context of Slavery, in which Africans whose right to a free life was unjustly taken from them. With everything they were familiar with taken from them, and while being forced into servitude in a totally unknown place, with people and languages they did not understand, they taught themselves new languages and began to understand European cultures.
Eventually, this knowledge allowed them to create their own self-governing system, which worked to support their communities and ultimately save lives. Following this background, the exhibition provides information on the first Black King/Governor in Massachusetts, a role that began in 1740 and is followed by the names of people from throughout the region who later earned the title and supported the community.
The exhibit goes on to share information on the first black voting system, which eventually evolved into the “Black Picnic Day” events that have been celebrated for 281 years. (While historically referred to as “Black Picnic Day,” the event is now referred to as “Negro Election Black Celebration Day.” You can learn more about the history of the event, and its name change, with information provided by Salem United here.)
To reinforce the importance of understanding this history, the exhibit connects the first self-governing movements organized by West African slaves to the ways that white America has used unjust tactics to maintain voter suppression throughout elections.
Today, visitors to Hamilton Hall can learn about the events and movements that supported these fights against oppression. The exhibit runs through August 29, 2021, and is free to visit with no reservations needed. Visit the exhibit Fridays, 4-6:30 pm, Saturdays 3-6:30 pm, and Sundays 1-6:30 pm (closed July 17-18). Learn more and plan your visit here.