The Freedom Bell that rang to open the National Museum of African American History and Culture traveled from Williamsburg, Virginia, but its story began nearly 250 years ago.
A group of free and enslaved African-Americans met secretly near the Virginia city and formed what is known as the First Baptist Church. It is believe to be the first Baptist church organized by and entirely for African-Americans.
The bell was cast in 1886 after funds were raised by women at the church. Although silent through much of the civil rights era, it rang in early 2016 for the first time in years to mark the 240th anniversary of both the Declaration of Independence and the Frist Baptist Church of Williamsburg.
"This is first and foremost about the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, our community, and a larger message we hope to share with the nation," said Mitchell Reiss, president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in a February NBC News story. "Colonial Williamsburg was built by enslaved African-Americans, and it was rebuilt in the 1920s and '30s, largely by African-American workers. We believe that this is a moment in time where we can provide some of our assistance to the church to make a statement that we think will be heard across the country."
President Barack Obama, along with first lady Michelle Obama, rang the bell at the end of the dedication ceremony, opening the new Smithsonian museum, located on the National Mall, to the public.
The bell will be displayed at the museum until the beginning of October. It will return to Williamsburg in time for the official anniversary celebration of the church.