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First Baptist's Bell delivered to new Smithsonian ahead of opening ceremony  

The journey forward started with a trip through the past. 

The freedom bell of Williamsburg's First Baptist Church, nestled in a white van with the Let Freedom Ring emblem on the door, began the trek to Washington, D.C. early Wednesday by driving past the church's old location on Nassau Street then down Duke of Gloucester Street. 

Colonial Williamsburg interpreters waved at the passing convoy: City of Williamsburg police, Virginia State Police, the bell's van and a bus containing First Baptist members and Colonial Williamsburg employees.

Donald Hill was overcome. 

"You see history just passing you right by," said Hill, a First Baptist trustee. "You're looking at it where it was, where it used to be and, at the same time, the bus is taking you some place different."

That place was the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens Saturday. The bell is to ring at the museum's dedication ceremony Saturday, which President Barack Obama is expected to attend and ring the bell. 

The white van pulled up to the massive museum Wednesday afternoon, its door slid open, and there the bell rested, as the Washington Monument loomed nearby. 

In the midst of D.C.'s bustle, a brief ceremony surrounding the bell began. 

Colonial Williamsburg interpreter James Ingram portrayed the Rev. Gowan Pamphlet, under whom First Baptist organized as a Baptist church in 1781. Ingram has portrayed Pamphlet for 27 years. 

"This bell has become now a symbol of remembrance, one of those monuments," Ingram, as Pamphlet,  said to the crowd. 

And when your children ask you what the bell means, Ingram said, "you can tell them it is to ring for the healing of this country. For all the wounds. For all the cries. For all of those in prison incorrectly. For all those that have been wounded incorrectly, wronged by the system that should be justice, liberty for all. It is not yet completed, Amen?"

Those gathered around echoed agreement. 

"Ringing this bell will be symbolic to healing those wounds," he said. "Remember that."

The Rev. Reginald Davis spoke next, with wife Myrlene and son Joel by his side. 

Davis said the church is honored to loan the bell for the ceremony, hoping "that people will understand that this bell is a symbol to help heal our nation." 

"We loan this bell to say that healing is possible, that justice is reachable and to remind us of our sacred heritage -- that we are one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all," Davis said. "We have come a long ways, and we have a long ways to go." 

Davis prayed over the bell, and the ceremony soon ended. The door slid shut, and the van drove off. It will be installed later on the dedication ceremony's stage. 

Rex Ellis serves as Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He formerly served as Vice President of the Historic Area at Colonial Williamsburg, where he worked for several years. 

"The (National Museum of African American History and Culture) is trying to tell a story of resilience, uplift  and, most importantly, spirituality," Ellis told the Gazette. "That bell represents uplift, freedom and spirituality." 

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342. 

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