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Hundreds attend “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Williamsburg

Posted at 8:40 PM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-01 20:40:05-05

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Williamsburg native Mary Ellis vividly remembers when the bell at First Baptist Church stopped ringing during segregation. The church she worshiped in for 37 years is one of the oldest African-American churches in the country.

Monday, hundreds gathered in that same church to declare the silence is over.

The Let Freedom Ring service drew in civil rights activists, community leaders and celebrities such as Dionne Warwick and singer Valerie Simpson.

People from all walks of life came together to ring the church's newly restored bell.

Simpson performed the song "Angels" at the Let Freedom Ring service.

"Because there are so many angels that are responsible who have paid the price for us and we are here as a result of that. We stand boldly on their shoulders," Simpson said.

Reverend Jesse Jackson talked about the significance of the day.

"This event symbolizes overcoming the scars of America's deepest and ugliest sin, slavery," Jackson said.

Let Freedom ring 2

Reverend Jesse Jackson ringing the Freedom Bell.

The 240-year-old First Baptist Church of Williamsburg was built by slaves.

One speaker called the church a beacon--saying this celebration, the ringing of the bell is a true call to action, not just for the Williamsburg community but for the entire nation.

Pastor Reginald Davis told the crowd "We need to not only heal our wounds but get rid of the scars."

Church member Melody Hundley said our country still has a way to go.

"We still have work to do. But this, hopefully is the stepping stone for that."

The 240-year-old First Baptist Church

The 240-year-old First Baptist Church

Those sentiments were echoed by Shannon Lanier, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson who took part in the historic event.

He's hoping this moment will spark change.

"I think it is a symbolic moment for us to come together as a country, as the Jefferson family," he said. "We are standing in unity to ring the freedom bell together because so many years we were separated by slavery. It's an opportunity to come together and if our family can stand together, so can America."

Hundreds of people from across the country have signed up to take the Let Freedom Ring Challenge. The bell will ring at the historic church in Williamsburg every day for the month of February.

If you would like to participate, you can make a reservation to ring the bell by going to freedomringchallenge.org.