NORWICH, CONN. -- 150 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the proud citizens of the Rose of New England will dedicate and celebrate the Norwich Freedom Bell in a ceremony outside city hall this weekend. The bell and tower are the culmination of three years of work by the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee of Norwich to cast the nation's first bell to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation.
The state and nation have been marking the anniversary of Lincoln's great act with pageants, exhibits and symposia throughout this year. Yet the casting of a bell is unique; and one may ask, why Norwich?
The town is laden with a proud and patriotic past with regard to civil rights. James L. Smith, an escaped slave who came to Norwich via the Underground Railroad became a pillar of the community as a businessman and organizer. In 1860 presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln made several campaign stops throughout Connecticut, receiving one of his warmest welcomes in Norwich. After the Civil War, Norwich industrialist John Fox Slater set aside 1 million of his own dollars toward the education and edification of the 'emancipated population of the Southern states.' On January 1, 1863, Norwich Mayor James Lloyd Greene called for bell ringing and the firing of guns to celebrate the new freedom of the nation's slaves. In a state called the South Carolina of the North by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Norwich's resounding jubilance over the controversial Emancipation Proclamation stood out.
Over the past three years, City Historian Dale Plummer and community leaders have given their all to make good on Mayor Greene's clarion call to ring bells for freedom. A reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debate and several appearances by reenactors have helped raise the necessary funds for the bell's casting. The EPCC also received a grant from the state to defray the cost. In January of this year latter-day Civil War artillerists heralded the sesquicentennial of the Proclamation's issuing with cannon fire. In June, the bell was cast by mobile foundry, courtesy of the Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
This Saturday at 10:00 am, the bell will dedicated atop its modern tower in the David Ruggles courtyard in front of City Hall. As opposed to being tucked up in a belfry, the parabola-shaped tower places the bell up high for all to see, a proud monument to the extension of civil rights and liberties to African Americans. Join in the chorus, and let freedom ring.