The regional premiere of a new documentary on the life of iconic African-American poet and activist Maya Angelou headlines Colonial Williamsburg’s Films of Faith and Freedom series in February at the Kimball Theatre to commemorate Black History Month, in addition to groundbreaking original dramatic programming and a renewed call with the city’s historic First Baptist Church for the nation to “Let Freedom Ring.”
An exclusive one-time showing of “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 at the Kimball Theatre in Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square precedes its national broadcast on PBS. The film captures the exuberant life of a woman referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture,” from her youth in the Depression-era South to her speech at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton.
Other highlights of the Films of Faith and Freedom series include 2016’s “Loving” and the 2017 Golden Globe-winner for Best Motion Picture – Drama: “Moonlight.”
“Loving” celebrates the story of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, who waged a nine-year legal battle that culminated in 1967 before the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed their right to live as a family in their Virginia hometown. “Moonlight” chronicles the life of a young black man struggling to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
A full month of programming at the Kimball includes performances of Colonial Williamsburg’s powerful original live program “Journey to Redemption,” which depicts the critical challenges Colonial Williamsburg actor interpreters embrace in their portrayals of both the enslaved and slaveholders of 18th-century America, as the cast breaks character and engages its audience directly.
And again this February, all are welcome at First Baptist Church, 727 Scotland Street, to ring the congregation’s historic Freedom Bell for justice, peace and healing under the theme “Let Freedom Ring: The Journey Continues.” Conserved with support from Colonial Williamsburg, the bell rang in 2016 for the first time since segregation to mark the 240th anniversary of the congregation, which formed in the year of America’s founding (1776). The bell later travelled to Washington, D.C. where, on Sept. 24, 2016, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, together with four generations of a family descended from enslaved Americans, rang the bell to formally open the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.
“When the Freedom Bell first tolled last February after decades of silence, and again last fall at the hand of our first African-American president, we – along with our friends at the historic First Baptist Church – not only interpreted history, we made it,” said Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss. “This year during Black History Month, we join with the Church again to invite the nation to ‘Let Freedom Ring,’ and to experience year-round a wide range of films, programs and exhibits at Colonial Williamsburg that confront the complexity of our nation and its founding.”
The Freedom Bell was acquired by First Baptist Church in 1886, then installed above the church’s current sanctuary during its construction in 1956, but fell silent due to architectural and mechanical deficiencies. In 2016 more than 4,000 people answered the congregation’s call and rang the bell.
“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who our nation honors today, observed that ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ The process remains a difficult one, but with faith we will achieve the ‘more perfect union’ that our predecessors sought and that Dr. King envisioned in his dream,” said the Rev. Dr. Reginald F. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church and author of “A Dangerous Journey: Those Who Become Jesus’ Disciples.”
“The thousands who answered the call and rang the bell over the past year have not only made a statement affirming justice and peace, but they have helped heal themselves and the nation we compose,” Davis added. “We invite others from near and far to follow in their historic footsteps, and ‘Let Freedom Ring.’”
Early performances of “Journey to Redemption,” which features Colonial Williamsburg Artistic Director for Actor Interpreters Katrinah Lewis in the roles of Lydia Broadnax and Jenny, elicited emotional responses from cast and audience members alike.
“Theatrical pieces like ‘Journey to Redemption’ are uniquely effective in allowing the complexities of the difficult aspects of our history to leap off the page and into our hearts and our minds,” Lewis said. “It gives us a deeper understanding of who we were to help us continue to determine who we want to be.”
The other features in the Films of Faith and Freedom series are “Rejoice and Shout,” a 2010 documentary on the roots, history and influence of American gospel music, “Black Girl,” a classic 1966 French-language film about a Senegalese woman working as a servant in France, and “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” a 2012 documentary on the political activism and prosecution of scholar Angela Davis.
Additional dramatic programming at the Kimball includes “God is My Rock” featuring Colonial Williamsburg’ James Ingram as First Baptist Church’s founding pastor Rev. Gowan Pamphlet, and the uplifting musical program “Faith, Hope and Love.” Presentations of the perennial favorite program “A Gathering of Hair,” which examines the lives of free and enslaved African-American women in the 18th century, are held throughout the month in the Governor’s Palace East Advance.
At the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, the exhibit “A Century of African-American Quilts” remains on display through May 2018 in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Gallery of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Museum program highlights include the African-American Artists tour Thursdays at 10:15 a.m., and the live dramatic programs “To Be Seen as an American Feb. 8 and 22, and “What is a Family?” Feb. 15, all at 3:30 p.m.
In the Historic Area, Colonial Williamsburg’s newly renovated African-American Religion exhibit is open in February on the east side of Nassau Street between Duke of Gloucester and Francis streets, opposite the site of First Baptist Church’s home for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Tickets for Films of Faith and Freedom features are $5 except for “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” “Loving” and “Moonlight,” which are $8.50 and $7 for seniors and students. Live programs and the African-American Religion exhibit are included in Colonial Williamsburg admission, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and museum programs are open to guests with Colonial Williamsburg or Art Museums admission.
Free registration to visit First Baptist Church and ring the Freedom Bell is available at LetFreedomRingChallenge.org. Program schedules, tickets and additional information about Black History Month events are available at Colonial Williamsburg ticketing locations including the Kimball Theatre box office, online at colonialwilliamsburg.com by calling 855-296-6627 toll-free or by visiting Colonial Williamsburg on Facebook and @colonialwmsburg on Twitter andInstagram. Tickets for the Films of Faith and Freedom series are also available via Fandango.com.