The Dallas Morning News: Steve Helber/AP
Interpreters such as Janice Canaday and Robert Watson Jr. stroll the streets attired in period dress.
January 2, 2016
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Despite a growing and continuing emphasis on African-American history, Colonial Williamsburg has struggled to attract more black visitors to the historic village where interpreters stroll the streets attired in bonnets and tricorn hats. It’s a hard sell when human enslavement is a part of the story you’re trying to tell.
But now, a church founded by slaves is at the center of an initiative to reintroduce African-Americans to Colonial Williamsburg and perhaps inspire a national conversation on race and the nation’s origins.
Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, artists such as Aretha Franklin and African-American scholars are on board to give some star power and intellectual heft to the effort. Organizers are hopeful President Barack Obama will join in.
The concept is simple and symbolic: Colonial Williamsburg has loaned a team of its vaunted historic conservation experts to the First Baptist Church to repair its long-silenced bell. In February, Black History Month, the newly conserved bell will ring for the first time in decades, signaling the start of a conversation on racial healing and activities throughout the community and at the historic attraction.
The church and Colonial Williamsburg are inviting the nation and Obama to join in the bell-ringing, called “Let Freedom Ring.”
“It’s a clarion call to finish the unfinished work of liberty and justice for all, and we have to embrace that,” First Baptist pastor Reginald Davis said in an interview of the basement of his sanctuary. “This is our goal — to make people come together to make this a more perfect union.”
As for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, CEO Mitchell B. Reiss said the event represents the start of “a fresh conversation with the African-American community, perhaps to have them perceive or see Colonial Williamsburg in a new way.”