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Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church had its bell removed Wednesday morning, so it could be transported to Washington, D.C. There, the bell will ring at the dedication of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on Sept. 24.
Churchgoers said they hope the event will send a message as loud and clear as the sound of the bell itself.
“The bell is here to remind us about freedom and justice for all,” said Reverend Dr. Reginald Davis. “It gives us significance because I see the dots being connected.”
The first Baptist Church is believed to be the first African American Baptist church in the United States, and was founded in the same year the country declared its independence, 1776. Davis points out that the Freedom Bell, which was initially donated as a symbol of freedom, could be rung by the country’s first African American president, who will be in attendance at the dedication.
“We are just elated,” said church trustee John Williams. “This is in tune for what we’ve been trying to advocate since we began ringing the bell, which is equality and the end of bigotry…We view the bell as the front line of justice.”
The historic Freedom Bell has been a part of the church since 1886, but it sat silent from 1956 until Jan. 31. Thanks to a partnership with Colonial Williamsburg, the bell has now been restored to working order.
Since the bell received repairs in January, churchgoers and community residents alike have been offered the opportunity to ring the bell, in order to make a statement against oppression and violence.
According to Davis, the local community has been supportive, and over 4,000 people have come through the First Baptist Church to ring the bell since January.
“People across the country are sick of the racial divide," said Davis. "Too many people of all colors have suffered, bled and died for us not to create a more perfect union."
"We have one history," he added. "It has its dark parts, but we all share in this history.”
After the ceremony, the Freedom Bell will be returned to the church’s tower and Davis says all are welcome to enter and ring the bell.
“Once we have the internal division and bickering solved, and once we lift up our fundamental values, we’ll be in a better position to say, ‘Look at us!’ and be a leader in the world,” Davis said.