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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU's Cecelia Tucker Rings Historic Church Bell For Freedom

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Cecelia Tucker, Old Dominion's special assistant to the president for community relations, represented the University in a ceremony at a historic black church in Williamsburg, hosted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in honor of Black History Month.

First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, founded in secret by a group of slaves and free African Americans in 1776, is one of the oldest African American houses of Baptist worship.

A bell purchased by the church in the late 19th century, which had been inoperable since the days of segregation, was restored along with a rebuilding of the church at its current location on Scotland Street in Williamsburg.

During Black History Month in February, the church and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation hosted the Let Freedom Ring Challenge, inviting participants to ring the bell in support of continuing this nation's work on racial understanding, reconciliation and justice.

Tucker rang the bell during a Let Freedom Ring event February 29 at the church.

"I was honored to be chosen by President John R. Broderick to ring the bell on behalf of Old Dominion University," she said. "The history of First Baptist Church should be celebrated, and participating in the Let Freedom Ring Challenge was a poignant reminder of the power of healing."

Founded at the dawn of the American Revolution, First Baptist Church moved to its current location in 1956. It has played host to famed worshippers such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

The bell the congregation had acquired late in the 19th century was silenced during the racial turmoil and triumph that marked segregation and the Civil Rights movement. An engineering and conservation team led by Colonial Williamsburg experts determined the age, foundry and provenance of the bell, and painstakingly restored it in time to toll throughout Black History Month.