Negro Elections Day

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Negro Elections Day

Negro Elections Day, a ceremony among African-American slaves in New England, is of disputed origin. Known also as Negro Governor's Day and by several other names, Negro Elections Day is a celebration that entailed costumes, feasting, and the election of a "governor" among certain slave populations. More of a symbolic position than anything else, an elected "governor" had no real legislative or political power.

In some cases contests of cleverness and strength were designed as a means of picking a winner, who would then become governor; in other cases personal character, morality, intelligence, and wisdom were prerequisites for appointment to governor. In a few cases the appointed governor was a descendent of African royalty or had actually been a prince or king prior to capture by slave traders.

Negro Elections Day generally fell on one of the days granted to slaves for rest and recreation. On this day slave men and women dressed in fancy garb or costume, played music, and paraded through the streets on foot or on horseback, accompanying their elected governor. The governor usually wore military dress or emblems (such as a crown) of royalty. The parade was usually followed by a dinner and dance.

Some eighteenth-century writers speculate that the election of governors was a vestige of the ceremonies accompanying the election of a king or chief that had taken place in Africa. Other writers suggest that enslaved Africans, now politically powerless, were imitating the election process that they had witnessed in the company of their white masters. However, the fact that Negro Elections Day is documented as having grown less political and more ceremonial over the years (when fewer Africans with a knowledge of original customs were being imported), combined with the fact that similar celebrations took place among slave populations in the Caribbean and Latin America, seems to buttress the belief that the practice originated in Africa.


Aimes, Hubert H. S. "African Institutions in America." Journal of American Folk-Lore 18 (1905): 1532.

Shelton, Jane deForest. "The New England NegroA Remnant." Harper's New Monthly Magazine 88 (1894): 533538.

petra e. lewis (1996)