On Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will open its doors to the public, and First Baptist Church’s very own Freedom Bell will play a key role at the dedication ceremony.
In 2015, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation began the process of restoring the bell of First Baptist Church back to working condition. The bell, named the Freedom Bell, fell silent after the church moved its location from Nassau Street to Scotland Street in the middle of the 20th century before the Civil Rights Movement. It remained silent through segregation until Feb. 1, 2016, when ancestors of Thomas Jefferson through both his wife Martha and slave Sally Hemings came together for the first time. That bell cried out, silent no more, and history was made.
That day, members of the Civil Rights community joined Colonial Williamsburg and First Baptist Church for an event at the church. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Bobby Scott were among speakers during a ceremony kicking off our Let Freedom Ring Challenge where we encouraged the nation to ring the bell for justice, peace, and racial healing. Thousands stepped foot inside the vestibule of First Baptist Church to take their turn at the bell.
Just weeks ago, Colonial Williamsburg was contacted about the bell playing a role in the dedication ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. This tremendous museum is wholly dedicated to the history of African Americans in our nation and is the newest addition to the Smithsonian. It was established in 2003 and now, 13 years later, the museum will open to the public on Sept. 24. During a dedication ceremony that morning, a ceremony that will be attended by President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush will be held, and the Freedom Bell will be on display for the nation to see.
“Just last year we set out to restore our long-silent bell so that it might ring out during our 240th year in a call to the nation for healing and justice,” First Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Dr. Reginald F. Davis said. “That it will ring on such a day in the presence of our nation’s first African-American president, is a glorious advent that we could not have shared in our prayers or imagined in our wildest dreams.”
“For 90 years Colonial Williamsburg has interpreted history, but together with First Baptist Church we’ve made history,” added Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss. “First Baptist’s is a crucial American story that parallels our entire nation’s. The Freedom Bell embodies both our shared history and our nation’s founding values as we work toward ‘a more perfect union.’”
Monday, the Freedom Bell began its journey as it descended the belfry in front of a crowd. Below is a slideshow of pictures from the event. Colonial Williamsburg’s team of conservators will prepare the bell for its trip to Washington D.C., where it will be placed on the stage to take part in the dedication ceremony. When the bell returns to Williamsburg, you’ll have the chance to ring it either for the first time or again to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the founding of the church. For more information and to reserve your spot, click here.
Join us in wishing the Freedom Bell well on its journey to our nation’s capital by leaving a comment below, and stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter channels for more information on how you can watch the event.