Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in New Jersey Date in the current year: March 31, 2024

Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in New Jersey Thomas Mundy Peterson Day is an annual observance celebrated in New Jersey on March 31. It was established to honor the first African-American who voted in an election after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Thomas Mundy Peterson was born on October 6, 1824 in Metuchen, New Jersey. His father worked for the Mundy family, and his mother was a slave of Hugh Newell, who manumitted her by his will when she was 21. After the abolition of slavery, Peterson worked as a school janitor and a general handyman in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

On March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited denying citizens the right to vote based on their race or color, was certified as duly ratified and part of the United States Constitution. It should be noted, however, that suffrage was still denied to women, who would be granted the right to vote in 1919.

Following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Peterson became the first African-American to exercise his right to vote. In Perth Amboy, a vote over the town’s charter was held the day after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Some citizens wanted to abandon the existing charter and form a township, while others thought that revising the existing charter would be enough.

Peterson was among those who supported the revision of the existing charter. He cast his ballot in favor of this option, and his side won by a large margin: 230 for revising the charter against 63 for abandoning it. Subsequently, Peterson was appointed as one of the seven members of the committee responsible for making amendments to the charter. The revised charter was adopted on April 5, 1871.

In 1884, the citizens of Perth Amboy raised 70 dollars (which amounted to approximately $1,800 in 2019 dollars) to award Peterson with a gold medallion featuring a profile bust of Abraham Lincoln, the president who had succeeded in abolishing slavery and therefore had made the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment possible. Peterson was presented with the medallion on May 30, 1884, on the occasion of Memorial Day (then known as Decoration Day).

Peterson was deeply touched by the present and never left his home without affixing the medallion to his left breast. Unfortunately, later in life he sometimes pawned it due to financial instability. The medallion is currently exhibited at Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black university in New Orleans.

In 1998, March 31 – the anniversary of Peterson’s historic vote – was designated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in new Jersey. It has been celebrated annually ever since.

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Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in New Jersey, holidays in the United States, holidays in New Jersey, Fifteenth Amendment