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March 31, 2016

Civil Rights Pioneers to “Let Freedom Ring” in Honor of Leader, Friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Weekend of Remembrances” at historic First Baptist Church culminates with April 4 ceremony marking the 48th anniversary of King’s death

Leaders of the American civil rights movement join the city’s historic First Baptist Church for a “Weekend of Remembrances” honoring the triumphs and sacrifices of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., culminating April 4 when the Rev. Drs. Virgil A. Wood and Owen C. Cardwell, Jr. “Let Freedom Ring” to commemorate the 48th anniversary of King’s death.

Wood served on the National Executive Board of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Council and coordinated the Virginia delegation to the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington that ended with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He retired in 2005 after more than 50 years as a church leader, educator and activist.

Wood will preach to the First Baptist Church congregation at 11 a.m. April 3 then participate in an evening vespers service starting at 5 p.m. joined by Cardwell, founder and pastor of Richmond’s New Canaan International Church. In 1962 Cardwell was one of the first two African-American students to attend Lynchburg’s E.C. Glass High School, and met King during his visit in support of desegregation.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Wood and Cardwell will join members of First Baptist Church in ringing its restored Freedom Bell to commemorate the day’s solemn anniversary and to mark progress toward realization of King’s dream as well as work unfinished.

“While the struggle for justice and equality continues, we’ve made it this far by Dr. King’s leadership and that of his contemporaries like Dr. Wood and Dr. Cardwell,” said Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church. “Our call for the nation to join us and ‘Let Freedom Ring’ began with a challenge but has given way to a movement, one that I know will benefit immensely from the wisdom Dr. Wood and Dr. Cardwell will impart during their visit.”

“Dr. King’s conviction and absolute courage inspire us toward the ideals our nation set for itself 240 years ago, which he articulated so perfectly for a modern world,” said Mitchell B. Reiss, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “We are deeply grateful that Dr. Wood and Dr. Cardwell, who stood with Dr. King at vanguard of the struggle for civil rights, will join us in Williamsburg and ring the Freedom Bell in a call to honor his message and memory.”

Founded secretly in the year of America’s independence, First Baptist Church persevered during enslavement, Revolution and Civil War and is one of the country’s oldest African-American houses of Baptist worship1. Entering this year of its 240th anniversary, the church’s 130-year-old bell had hung silent in its belfry since the days of segregation. Following its restoration by Colonial Williamsburg conservators, the congregation challenged freedom-loving people to visit and ring the bell for hope, peace and justice during February’s Black History Month, when more than 4,000 people answered the call.

The Let Freedom Ring Challenge was made possible in part by a generous grant from sponsoring partner the Ford Foundation of New York.

Members of the media wishing to cover events April 3 and 4 RSVP to by noon April 1.

[1] A small number of black Baptist churches can legitimately claim to be the oldest in America — First African Baptist in Savannah, Georgia, for example, and Silver Bluff Baptist Church in Jackson, South Carolina. However, First Baptist Church in Williamsburg is believed to be the first black Baptist church that was organized entirely by African Americans.

About First Baptist Church of Williamsburg

First Baptist Church of Williamsburg originated in 1776 with a quest by a group of courageous slaves and free blacks who wanted to worship God in their own way. In their search, they left the church of slave owners, such as Bruton Parish Church, where worship was formal and restrained. First led by Moses, a free black itinerant preacher, they built a brush arbor at Green Spring Plantation a few miles from town to gather secretly in song and prayer. Organized as Baptists by 1781 under Rev. Gowan Pamphlet, an enslaved man in Williamsburg, worshippers moved to Raccoon Chase, a rural area just outside Williamsburg. A member of the white Cole family, moved by their stirring hymns and heartfelt prayers, offered the group the use of his carriage house on Nassau Street for a meeting place. Pamphlet continued as pastor until his death about 1807. The African Baptist Church, as it became known before the Civil War, dedicated a new brick church on Nassau Street in 1856, the congregation’s church home for the next 100 years. It was renamed First Baptist Church of Williamsburg in 1863. The present church at 727 Scotland Street has served the congregation since 1956.

About the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation preserves, restores and operates Virginia’s 18th-century capital of Williamsburg. Innovative and interactive experiences highlight the relevance of the American Revolution to contemporary life and the importance of an informed, active citizenry. The Colonial Williamsburg experience includes more than 400 restored or reconstructed original buildings, renowned museums of decorative arts and folk art, extensive educational outreach programs for students and teachers, lodging, culinary options from historic taverns to casual or elegant dining, the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club featuring 45 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones and his son Rees Jones, a full-service spa and fitness center, pools, retail stores and gardens. Philanthropic support and revenue from admissions, products and hospitality operations sustain Colonial Williamsburg’s educational programs and preservation initiatives.

Media Contact:
Joe Straw