First Baptist Church to ring in new focus on African-American history

Staff writer

The sound of the Freedom Bell will take on new meaning Sunday, when it will be rung as part of a ceremony to kick off First Baptist Church of Williamsburg’s “beyond february” campaign.

The historic black church and its foundation will lead the campaign to extend its focus on African-American history as a more integral part of the nation’s history throughout 2019 and expand recognition of African-American achievement beyond the month of February, according to a church news release.

The church cast the initiative as a natural continuation of the efforts made to give the accomplishments of black Americans their due — tracing a line from scholar Carter Woodson, who founded the concept of a “Negro History Week,” a precursor to African-American History Month, in 1926.

The church invites people of every race and creed to hear about the shared history of Americans at its 11 a.m. service. It’ll be a time for reflection of the challenges of racial healing and a time to call for a more just society.

“People of goodwill must demand that our state and our nation’s racist past no long have a place as we move forward to form a more perfect union,” said church pastor Reginald Davis in the release.

Minister Isaiah Thomas will serve as a guest speaker and will deliver a sermon alongside a special choir hosted by the church’s music ministry, according to the release.

William and Mary president Katherine Rowe will lead college students and alumni in ringing the church’s Freedom Bell to celebrate “beyond february.”

A college spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

First Baptist also will note the one-year anniversary of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation’s launch. The foundation exists to preserve the historic church building and historic artifacts that date to the 18th century.

The church acquired the Freedom Bell in 1886, but the bell fell into disrepair and ceased ringing in the mid-20th century. In 2016, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation restored the bell to working order.

The church, which is designated a National Historic Landmark, is believed to be the first church in the United States organized entirely by African-Americans when it was founded in secret by enslaved men and women in 1776.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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