August 25 – Bell Ringing – Slavery – Samford University – Day of Healing

August 25, 2019, has been designated a “Day of Healing” marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America. The arrival and sale of these individuals took place at Old Point Comfort in my hometown of Hampton, Virginia. The National Park Service has invited Americans to ring bells for four minutes at 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on that day to mark the occasion to mark this occasion.

Bells are symbols of freedom. They are rung for joy, sorrow, alarm, and celebration … universal concepts in each of our lives. This symbolic gesture will enable Americans from all walks of life to participate in this historic moment from wherever they are–to capture the spirit of healing and reconciliation while honoring the significance of 400 years of African American history and culture.

“Day of Healing | Nationwide Bell Ringing Ceremony,” National Park Service

In Birmingham, Samford University has announced that it will participate in this “nationwide bell ringing ceremony to promote healing and reconciliation on Sunday, August 25. Stephen Brooks Knight, Samford’s resident carillonneur, will perform several spiritual selections on the Rushton Memorial Carillon at 2 p.m.”

I plan to be present on the Quad for the event. The university calendar indicates the playing of the carillon will last until 2:20 p.m. The carillon is one of the largest in the United States with sixty bells. Its tower is the symbol of Samford University.

During the era when slavery was legal in Alabama, Samford was located in the Black Belt city of Marion. My colleague, Michael Morgan, who helped arrange Samford’s observance shared with me the plans for the occasion of Siloam Baptist Church in Marion:

In August of 1619 the 1st enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of North America. We do not know their names, they are simply listed in the manifest of the White Lion as “20 and odd negroes which the Governor bought.”

On August 25th (this Sunday) at 3 p.m. bells across our community, including Marion United Methodist, Siloam Baptist, and Marion Military Institute, will ring for 4 minutes commemorating the 400 years since this significant moment in history occurred.

You are invited to join our community on the front steps of Siloam Baptist Church for a brief ceremony following the ringing of the bells. This ceremony will include music by Mac Spencer, a reading by Della Maynor, and a brief address from Robert Turner, Jr. We are #oneMarion. Come and let us remember together.

Siloam Baptist Church, Marion, Alabama, from ruralalabama.org

A memorial to one enslaved man who lived in Marion sits in Samford’s Centennial Walk directly in front of Davis Library and its Carillon. Harry, he had only one name, died after waking students to warn them to flee from a fire that was consuming the college building on October 15, 1854. He was also a member of Siloam Baptist Church. You can read more about him and his memorials in my post from earlier this year.

As it happens, this Sunday is the day before classes start. First-year students arrive Friday. Upper-class students will be moving in over the weekend. Amid the whirl of activities and emotions that mark the beginning of a new college year, I hope that those that hear the bells learn why they ringing and reflect on the occasion, its legacies, and how they can contribute to an even more just, merciful, and peaceful future.

Ring in the nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring in the love of truth and right, ring in the common love of good.
Ring in the valiant man and free, the larger heart, the kindlier hand.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, the faithless coldness of the times.
Ring out the darkness of the land, ring in the Christ that is to be.

Inscriptions on the twelfth to sixteenth bells in the Rushton Memorial Carillon from Tennyson, “In Memoriam“.

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