Salem United will focus on voter registration at July 16 event
By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent
Over a century before the Civil War, Salem was among a handful of Massachusetts towns that allowed enslaved and freed blacks to gather once a year and elect their own Black Governor, who spoke on behalf of all blacks and served as a judge, mediator and liaison.
That day, called “Negro Election Day” in 1741, was the first occurrence of voting rights for blacks in the United States. Now known as the Salem Willows Black Picnic, it will celebrate its 275th anniversary on Saturday, July 16, and Doreen Wade couldn’t be prouder.
“During this crazy election year, it is especially important to let people know the role Salem played in the black vote and to show everyone the importance of voting,” said the founder of the Salem United Organization, which hosts the event. “Our goal is to bring the day back to its origin and maintain its mission to voter registration and family unity.”
To that end, the event collaborates with the Young Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts for a get out and vote campaign statewide and a day of voter registration. The group will host a voter registration table at the event. Wade said that anyone with a driver’s license or birth certificate would be able to register on the spot at the Salem Willows Black Picnic.
Wade stresses that the day is geared to the entire community, not just its black members. “We want everyone out there to understand the importance of the vote,” she said.
“With the republicans and Democrats in such disarray, we need to have all voters registered and educated to who they are voting for and what they are voting for,” she added. Salem United will be hosting family oriented vendors, including educational and health groups, as well as speakers to highlight the historical significance of the day.
The Picnic is also a day for family-oriented fun. Since 1885, Salem Willows Park has been the Picnic’s annual location and has always included barbecues, volleyball games, dances and more. This year, the musical entertainment on the Main Stage will feature the Dave Macklin Band, Purpose Music Group, and various other performers. Children ages 5 to 14 can enjoy free face painting, arts and crafts and other hands-on activities.
And, of course, there will be food. “The day is also a day everyone came together and cooked out. There are grills galore and all you smell is barbecue,” Wade said, reminding people that is it fine for them to bring their own grills.
Wade, who is Publisher and CEO of New England Informer dba N.E. Informer Newsmagazine, founded Salem United in 2015 to preserve and restore the Salem Willows Black Picnic. “As we celebrate its history and its 275th year anniversary, we felt it would be easier if we were a formal organization,” she said.
Organizing the 2016 event, she was impressed with the support from the City of Salem, from Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office to the City officials (many of whom are marching in the parade) and licensing departments. She is disappointed that Massachusetts didn’t embrace and support the July 16 event, but hopes the 2017 Black Picnic may receive more state recognition.
Nonetheless, Wade is upbeat and enthusiastic and steadfast in her commitment to the Black Picnic’s mission. “I hope people take away from this event that their voices are important. A day of unity is healthy and necessary. We can come together as a community,” she said.
CAPTION FOR PHOTO AT TOP: The Black Picnic, which started as “Negro Election Day” in 1741, at its first celebration at Salem Willows in 1885.
For more information, visit http://www.neinformer.net/BlackPicnic.html.