Connie Harshaw & Reverend Dr. Reginald Davis: February 21, 2019

America’s Historic First Baptist Church “Freedom Bell” Continues its Call to Heal Racial Divide

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The First Baptist Church of Williamsburg Launched Let Freedom Ring Foundation in 2018 to protect and preserve the historic prominence of First Baptist

Connie Harshaw

Board Chair for the Let Freedom Ring Foundation

Reverend Dr. Reginald Davis

Pastor,  First Baptist Church 


The Freedom Bell at the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, one of the oldest African-American churches in the United States, will continue to ring every day during the month of February with a mission to heal the racial divide in the State and in the nation.

The acclaimed church will also guide the way to racial harmony with an appeal to churches around the country to bring awareness to what unites us, and to strive for racial accord during the 11’0clock church service – traditionally the most segregated hour of the week in American households.  The annual call was originally established in 2016 in celebration of the 240th anniversary of the historic church and continues loudly at this moment in history for Virginia and the nation as we struggle with issues of race.

On Sunday, February 24th at the close of Black History Month, the first female president of the College of William & Mary, Dr. Katherine Rowe will lead the students and alumni in ringing the Freedom Bell to launch “beyond february,” a yearlong campaign for unity that the Foundation hopes will serve as an example to the nation as the church continues to make history.  Dr. Rowe will be joined by Dr. Jody Allen, who earned her doctorate in U.S. history at William & Mary in 2007 and is the Director of the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation. The project explores the history of the College’s role as slaveholder and proponent of Jim Crow while at the present time is working to establish a memorial to the contributions of slaves at the College with the support of President Rowe.


Connie Matthews Harshaw began her career in public service with the U S. Navy at the Newport News Shipyard as a student employee in 1972. She retired from the Federal government as a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) in 2004 after a 30 year career with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards); NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA Headquarters in Washington, Air Force at Langley AFB; NIH National Cancer Institute; Army at Ft. Meade and Navy in Crystal City. Her last appointment, while a career civil servant, was with the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) as the Chief Operating Officer. During her tour with NCPC, she became the agency’s first female African-American SES. While at the Commission, she worked with the planners and architects to EXTEND THE LEGACY in the nation’s capital. In addition to serving the agency’s principal management official, she lists as her most important work, the assignment as Acting Executive Director to negotiate the site parameters for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in 1999. She attended Hampton University and transferred to the University of Maryland where she received her BS degree in Business Management and an MBA. She became a Senior Executive Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and completed the program in 1992. After retirement she formed her own business in Williamsburg, VA and currently serves as a consultant and advisor to several Presidential Appointees in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


Reverend Dr. Reginald F. Davis has presided as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia since January 2004.   The twenty-first pastor of First Baptist Church, Pastor Davis holds a Master of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Divinity School in New York, and a Doctorate in Humanities, with a concentration in African American Studies from Florida State University. Pastor Davis received his Bachelor of Art degree from the Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, Texas.


 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.

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