The opening of the Smithsonian African American History Museum signals a merging of the historic with the modern. Nothing ushers in that reality more than President Barack Obama ringing the bell of the first Black Baptist church at its inaugural ceremony. But first, the bell, located at Williamsburg, Virginia’s First Baptist Church, faced a gentle removal and relocation Sept. 21 to the District in time for the museum’s opening ceremony on Sept. 24.

The Freedom Bell (Photo by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

The Freedom Bell (Photo by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

“The bell is here to remind us about freedom and justice for all,” First Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis, told the AFRO. “It gives us significance because I see the dots being connected,” he said.

The church is considered the first African-American Baptist church in the United States, and was founded the same year the country declared its independence, 1776. Davis pointed out that the Freedom Bell, initially donated as a symbol of freedom, could be rung by the country’s first Black president, who will be in attendance at the ceremony.

“A piece of living history – the bell, will be rang by another living, breathing embodiment of history and power – Barack Obama,” Shirley Massey-Thomas, a deaconess for Detroit’s Ebenezer Baptist Church told the AFRO during the Congressional Black Caucus Prayer Breakfast Sept. 18. “There is a rich and beautiful coming together of the past and present that will take place at that moment, and I am eager to witness that.”

The historic Freedom Bell has been a part of the church since 1886, but it sat silent from 1956 until Jan. 31. The bell has since been restored to working order.

According to the Williamsburg Daily Press, after being repaired in January, churchgoers and community residents were given the opportunity to ring the bell, in order to make a statement against oppression and violence. Richmond resident Nathan Giles told the AFRO he intends to bring several students he mentors as a member of 100 Black Men, to the opening ceremony along with his father, an octogenarian, who petitioned for decades to have the museum built.

“It’s a matter of pride and an occasion for great humility having a bell that represented faith and courage moved to the actualization of much effort,” Giles said. “As a people, we have to be able to forge ahead knowing that we do bring the past along with us and it is a beautiful one of achievement and resilience, as well as resistance.”