Hidden History: A Virginia church lets freedom ring for the future

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) - Oftentimes we celebrate Black History Month with great stories about unforgettable people who helped to make our country what it is today.  This month we’re celebrating Hidden History, like the story of a little-known bell that set silent for years, only to become a leading symbol of how to let freedom ring.

Forever a part of history, the Freedom Bell, as it’s called today, is always the center of attention now wherever it goes.  And what a journey it has travelled.  One of its shining moments was being displayed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D. C. as it opened its doors for visitors from around the world.  

“This museum will celebrate that and it will celebrate that in the nation's backyard,” said Rex Ellis, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs. “Forever the master narrative of American history has changed.”

We were there as it was delivered for all to see and remember a chapter of our nation's story dating back to 1776, and a people who wouldn't let shackles hold them back. 

“On this day this bell has become a symbol of remembrance,” proclaimed a reenactor as the bell arrived.  “There should be justice and liberty for all and it is not yet completed.  Ringing this bell will be symbolic of healing those wounds.”

Those wounds were first suffered down the highway, in Williamsburg, Virginia, by a congregation of slaves.  The Freedom Bell was purchased by the women's auxiliary of the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg in the 1800's. It had been silent since segregation. But with those troubles behind and thanks to a restoration effort by Colonial Williamsburg, members of the church and people of all ages and races from across the country packed pews for a message of hope in 2016. 

Recognizing one of the country's oldest African-American houses of Baptist worship out from a gloomy past, celebrating 240 years over a way that with tears has been watered, they also gathered to hear the sound of freedom newly restored.

“I think that the bell brings together people,” said Jeff Westerinen, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson in attendance.  “It has since the middle ages for heaven's sakes and it's a calling to action to each one of us to take the personal action to reach out.”

“This is the birth of our nation in Jamestown,” said Rev. Reginald Davis, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.  “And it's also where they dropped off the slaves.  So why not come back?”

From ringing among slaves worshipping in secret, to taking a prominent place in our Nation’s capital for a special milestone in modern history, and being transported back to Williamsburg where it first let freedom ring, you could call the Freedom Bell a time traveler now marking the beginning of a new day.


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