Colonial Williamsburg and First Baptist Church have joined together for the Let Freedom Ring Challenge. Americans from across the nation are invited to ring the First Baptist Church bell in the name of freedom and equality throughout the month of February and beyond.
Rachel West: Welcome back to the Past and Present podcast, I’m Rachel West. Today, I’m speaking with the Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis, Pastor of First Baptist Church here in Williamsburg. We’re going to chat a bit about the Let Freedom Ring Challenge. This is an initiative between First Baptist Church and Colonial Williamsburg to bring awareness to a very good cause. Thank you for joining me today, Pastor Davis.
Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis: Thank you.
Rachel: I’ve got a few questions for you. First of all, tell me a little bit about the history of the church.
Pastor Davis: Well, the history of this church, this congregation was founded back in 1776, the same year as our Declaration of Independence. This church has gone through many events of this nation. They used to worship in the fields, in the brush arbors, and when Mr. Cole, a white gentleman, heard them singing, it just moved him so that he offered his carriage house to them and therefore the church came into existence. But these black slaves were determined to worship God their own way. And so after the carriage house was offered to them, they became a congregation—bone fide congregation—same year as the Declaration of Independence, 1776, and so over time, not only have they thrived, they have survived, and now we’ll be celebrating 240 years.
Rachel: Two hundred forty years is such an accomplishment. What exactly is this Let Freedom Ring Challenge?
Pastor Davis: This Let Freedom Ring Challenge is an opportunity for all Americans to come and participate in ringing this bell, to commit themselves to this unfinished work of liberty and justice for all. We can see that our country is very divided and since our bell has been repaired after decades of being unrung, we just want to thank The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for partnership with us to make it possible. Now that it is possible that people can come and ring it, we say that Jamestown is where the birth of the Nation happened, it’s also where they first dropped off the slaves. So why not come and ring this bell and give America a new start, chart a new course, to say that all of us are Americans now. Let’s act like it. We have 240 years of experience to know what to do and what not to do.
Rachel: Do you know about how long it took to restore that bell? I got to see it when it was in the process of being restored, it’s a very large, powerful bell. About how long did it take?
Pastor Davis: I think it took about eight months to repair the bell. The engineers had to come in to see whether they could work on the bell here or they would have to take it somewhere else. But it took less than a year to repair the bell, to get everything prepared and again we are so grateful and thankful for those persons who made it possible.
Rachel: What is the significance of that bell and ringing the bell?
Pastor Davis: Well, it is a symbol. It’s a symbol of commitment to help this country chart a new course. It’s a symbol to say that bells were used to alert the country, to get people to understand that our country is in a crisis, and being in a crisis, how can we help our country chart a new course. How can we bring those things together that are dividing us? And so we want America to know that this a great country and when people come to ring the bell, we want people to know that when you grab hold to that rope, think about the history of how people have suffered and died to deliver a nation to us today and we are enjoying some of those freedoms. So we want people to commit themselves to making justice and liberation a reality, so that we can deliver this nation to the next generation of Americans. So I think that it’ll give us a sense of the past and give us a commitment to work for a better future.
Rachel: Hundreds upon hundreds of people are already signed up to register to ring this bell. They will be coming through this church to ring the bell. What do you hope they take away from their experience?
Pastor Davis: I’m hoping that they take away from their experience hope, because I read somewhere when you stop hoping, that’s when you die. And so I’m hoping that they’ll take away hope, I’m hoping that they’ll take away commitment, I’m hoping that they’ll take away that I can make a difference, I can be part of the solution rather than the problem. I’m hoping that a lot of introspection will take place. People would look at themselves and ask themselves what am I doing to help my nation? What am I doing to help my community? Because again the world is watching us, and if we’re going to be the leaders of the free world, we’re going to have to look at ourselves and then look at our fellow Americans and say that they are our brothers and sisters, they are our fellow citizens. And so let’s act like one nation. So it’s the love, it’s the hope, the introspection that I’m hoping that they will take away so we all can be a better people.
Rachel: What does ringing the bell mean to you?
Pastor Davis: Ringing the bell to me means part of a clarion call to let America know that we are on a course that I think is very destructive, I think is very anti-American. I don’t think it represents what our Founding Fathers intended, and so for me to ring the bell is to call attention back to those principles and those values that our Founding Fathers intended for this country. And to say we the people, we the people can make a difference. And so ringing for me will just give me a sense of what our Founding Fathers intended for this great nation.
Rachel: Once Black History Month is over, what do you hope continues on through 2016 and beyond?
Pastor Davis: Well, I’m hoping that the hope, the work, the commitment will continue on through the month of February. I’m hoping that the bell will continue to ring, not just for the month of February, but it will continue to remind us that the work needs to go on. We need to complete the work of justice and liberation and involvement and equal opportunity under the law. All of those things need to go on because this is just a start and we don’t just want this to be a flash in the pan, we want people to make that commitment a life-long commitment to deliver this nation to the next generation of Americans.
Rachel: Thank you so much Pastor Davis, I really appreciate you talking with me today.
Pastor Davis: Oh thank you, thank you so much for interviewing me. God bless you.
Rachel: For information on how you can get involved and to sign up to ring the bell, visit letfreedomringchallenge.org. If you can’t physically make it here to Williamsburg to ring the bell, that’s okay! Head to the website, where you can ring the Virtual Bell or you can have someone ring the bell for you on your behalf. To have someone ring the bell for you, use social media. We have a hashtag for this event: #LetFreedomRingChallenge. Use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, whatever you have and ask someone to come to First Baptist Church to ring the bell for you. Then, use it to challenge all of your friends to do the same. If they can’t be here, they can have someone come do it for them. In addition to #LetFreedomRingChallenge, we have another one: #WhyIWillRing. Use this hashtag to tell the world why you will ring the bell, whether you are ringing the bell here in Williamsburg or ringing it online.
We hope you’ll help us continue this conversation. Hope to see you there.