Puritan New England, slave owners and freemen organized blacks from Massachusetts to vote for a black governor/King acting as a liaison between white and black relations. Worthy but not recognized federally, it was a great way to pass down African music, stories, games, and traditions
After the Fifteenth Amendment
After the Civil War the festivals voting process came to a halt, spurred by the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. With the building of Salem Willows Park the festival moved from the Saugus River to the Park.
Early 20th Century
The Colored People’s Picnic held track and field events and church choirs as they did in the 18th century. Dances were held with jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway held at the Charleshurst Ballroom. The Churches took an active role and participated strongly.
World War II
Since Black people worked in factories and defends plants, the picnic moved to the third Saturday of July. Weekends were the only option. Churches became less active and families traveled from all parts of Massachusetts.
Civil Rights Movement
In 1968, during the Civil Rights Movement, the name Colored People’s Picnic was changed to Black Picnic from the strength of self-identity by The Black Power movement. The festival still stayed stop to the Massachusetts Black community.
Late 20th Century
From the 90’s to the early 2000’s Black Picnic Day brought larger crowds, corporate sponsors and more. The bandstand became the highlight for the shows as the Ballroom burnt down. Negro Election Day remained in its location since 1885 and was placed in the National Historical Registry. Salem United was formed in 2015 to preserve, protect and grow Black Picnic Day.
It is widely recognized by Senator’s, governors, and mayors who participate in the parade. It has vendors, entertainers and a Flag Raising ceremony. There is community collaborations with Organizations like National Parks Service and the City of Salem. 2021 brings the 280 year celebration of Black Picnic Day. People attend the festival from all counties from Essex, Berkshires, Middlesex, Worcester and throughout.