It starts with the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Va. The congregation began in secret in 1776, made up of enslaved and free African Americans who wanted to worship on their own terms. It’s believed to be first church in the United States that was organized entirely by African Americans, for African Americans.
In 1886, the First Baptist Church acquired the Freedom Bell, which was manufactured by Blymyer Norton & Co. in Cincinnati. After years of silence because of architectural and mechanical issues in the 20th century, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation assisted the church in restoring the bell in 2015. Descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings were the first members of the public to ring it on Feb. 1 of this year and all told, thousands of people rang the bell in Williamsburg.
Now, the 500-pound bell continues its journey with a trip to the nation’s capital, where it will ring at the dedication of the Smithsonian’s newest museum. President Barack Obama, nearing the end of his historic presidency, will be in attendance for the opening of a national museum dedicated to telling the American story through the African American lens.
“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,” said First Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Dr. Reginald F. Davis in a news release.
After the museum’s grand opening, the Freedom Bell will return to Williamsburg—130 years after it first arrived.