Colonial Williamsburg, the country’s most famous living-history museum, is dedicated to preserving the Virginia town in its 18th-century form and “feeding the human spirit by sharing America’s enduring story.” At the start of the Revolutionary War, Black residents made up more than half the colonial capital’s population, but for decades their stories were missing from the museum’s narrative: how they lived, how they worked, how they worshipped. In fact, Williamsburg is home to one of the oldest Christian congregations established by Black people in the United States, one that traces its founding back to 1776. For more than 50 years, however, the original site of the First Baptist Church has been buried under a parking lot, with only a small metal plaque to acknowledge the location’s historical significance.
In recent years, that’s finally begun to change. Museums, schools, and historians are working to broaden the focus of American history so that it doesn’t just center on white stories. The Virginia Board of Education approved a series of new requirements integrating Black history into its schools’ curriculums. And in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, communities across the country debated whether the scores of monuments dedicated to slave owners and the Confederacy should be left standing.
Perhaps the biggest milestone in this shift was the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016. To mark the occasion, President Obama rang the Williamsburg First Baptist Church’s Freedom Bell, which had been cast in 1886 to mark its 100-year anniversary. Ever since that ceremony, fellow members of First Baptist Church have been working to preserve more of its past, collecting artifacts and working with descendants of the original congregation to piece it together. “We need, to have people share our history.”
Williamsburg Walking Tours has been the premier tour group to talk about Black History throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg. Trish’s expertise in Black history, and her research on the lives of dozens of Black citizens and slaves goes back to before the signing of the constitution. Book or reserve your Black History tour now!