National Black Church Initiative Endorses Colonial Williamsburg’s ‘Let Freedom Ring’ Program

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The restored First Baptist Church bell. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
The restored First Baptist Church bell. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

A coalition of 34,000 African American churches recently announced its endorsement of “Let Freedom Ring,” Colonial Williamsburg’s upcoming Black History Month challenge.

The National Black Church Initiative, which includes churches from 15 denominations with a total of 15.7 million African American members, announced its support of the program earlier this week, calling it a “remarkable initiative that spotlights the Black church’s legacy,” in a recent news release.

The cornerstone of the “Let Freedom Ring” program is First Baptist Church – one of the nation’s oldest black churches. Founded by a group of slaves in 1776 on the eve of the American Revolution, First Baptist’s story is reflective of the struggles and triumphs the African American community as a whole has faced throughout the country over the past three centuries.

Over the course of the past year, Colonial Williamsburg has partnered with First Baptist Church to help restore the church bell that was purchased by the women’s auxiliary group in the late 19th century. After several decades of ringing out to announce religious services, weddings and funerals to the local black community, the bell fell silent in the 1950s due to structural issues in the bell tower at First Baptist’s current location on Scotland Street.

Thanks to the collaboration between the church and engineers and conservationists from Colonial Williamsburg, the bell will ring out once again next month. Locals and visitors to the area are encouraged to sign up for a time any day throughout Black History Month to come to the church and ring the bell as part of symbolic effort to promote the values of freedom and equality.

“The First Baptist Church, founded in the same year American gained its independence, is the perfect place for this important reflection, and represents a remarkable tribute to the Black church in America” said Rev. Anthony Evans, NCBI President. “First Baptist – a nexus of trials, tribulations, and hope – tells the important story of our rich history. Even today, its symbolism continues to illustrate race relation struggles facing our society. During February we encourage everyone who is able to take a look back at how far we have come, and how much further we have yet to go.”