Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

May 23, 2016

First Baptist Church recognizes Colonial Williamsburg President, CEO Mitchell B. Reiss for support of the Let Freedom Ring Challenge

Historic Congregation also Recognizes Senior Foundation Staff

The city’s historic First Baptist Church has recognized Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss and members of the Foundation’s senior staff for their work on February’s Let Freedom Ring Challenge.

Pastor Rev. Dr. Reginald Davis, along with Trustees Chairman Robert “Bobby” Braxton and Communications Chairwoman Sue Wilson said Reiss and his staff worked with First Baptist Church to provide public relations and social media coverage, a website, reservation system, logistics, volunteers, research and the Concert for Hope gala.

“Our challenge for the nation to ‘Let Freedom Ring’ was answered by thousands and has grown into a movement,” Davis said. “That, like our church’s perseverance over 240 years, happened only through faith and support of our community, exemplified by the assistance Dr. Reiss and his team at Colonial Williamsburg have so generously offered.”

Wilson presented Reiss with three gifts representing the past, present and future. The first is a framed collection plate dating to 1865. For the present, he received a book of memories containing signatures from the guestbook and selected comments and images from the Let Freedom Ring Challenge. The third gift is a leaf for the Tree of Life painted on the church foyer wall bearing his name.

Mike Holtzman, Colonial Williamsburg vice president of strategic communications, Doug Marty, Colonial Williamsburg executive director of enterprise planning and process management, and Stephen Seals, Colonial Williamsburg interpretive development program manager, also received leaves on the Tree of Life.

“Colonial Williamsburg was established to preserve and share the complex lessons of our history. This year, however, First Baptist Church made history yet again,” Reiss said. “We are honored to support the Let Freedom Ring movement and all it represents, and we thank Pastor Davis and the entire congregation for their very gracious recognition.”

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 worship. 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 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.

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