Celebrating Bill of Rights Day

Local Historian Scott Washington, who has organized the community bell ringing event for the past seven years, is pictured laughing during the third minute of bell ringing during last year’s Bill of Rights day celebration. This year, bells will ring to celebrate the 227th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

Seven years ago, bells rung in unison across Hillsborough to celebrate an event that occurred 220 years before: the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

Each year since the inaugural event in 2012, people have gathered at bell ringing locations across town to celebrate those 10 amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights – the amendments that protect the essential liberties and freedoms for all Americans.

The seventh annual community bell ringing event, “Bring Bells, Ring Bells”, will take place on Saturday, Dec. 15, beginning at noon. The public is invited to bring bells and gather at the historic 1845 Old County courthouse Square at 104 E King St in downtown Hillsborough. Bells will ring in select locations for 227 seconds – 3 minutes and 47 seconds.

Bill of Rights Day is celebrated on Dec. 15, the date in 1791 when the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution receive enough votes to officially become part of the U.S. Constitution.

The Bill of Rights includes rights and freedoms such as Freedom of religion, speech, and press; the right to bear arms; and the right to trial by jury.

Historic bells will simultaneously ring from belfries of five of the area's historic churches whose buildings date back to the 18th and 19th centuries: Dickerson Chapel AME, First Baptist of Hillsborough Hillsborough Presbyterian, Hillsborough United Methodist, and St. Matthews Episcopal. The bell at the 1771 Regulator Historic Site will also be rung.

Hillsborough played a significant role in the eventual ratification of these 10 amendments, according to Scott Washington, event organizer, Public Historian and former Assistant Director of the Orange County Historical Museum in 2012.

“North Carolina’s vote to neither ratify the then new U.S. Constitution nor reject it at the Hillsborough Convention of 1788 changed American history,” Washington said in an interview during the event’s first year. “Delegates were clearly not comfortable voting for a Constitution without a Bill of Rights. Two blocks from the convention site was the place where six Americans were executed under English colonial Governor Tryon in 1771 because there wasn’t a Bill of Rights to protect them.

“North Carolina was the only state to vote the way it did, and that made action on a Bill of Rights mandatory by the first U.S. Congress a year later. It’s clear from the timeline that the Bill of Rights was fast tracked by President Washington and that first U.S. Congress to address those concerns. Generations later, we all owe a debt to the Hillsborough Convention of 1788 for ensuring a Bill of Rights is every American’s birthright.”

This event gives new meaning to the age old refrain “Let Freedom Ring,” Washington said, and it’s a nice way to “ring” in the holidays, too.

Washington is quick to add that this celebration is a non-partisan event.

There will be no speeches, “only the sounds of bells of all sizes ringing at the same time, celebrating Bill of Rights Day.”

Dedicated to remembering this momentous day, Washington hopes this event will spread beyond Hillsborough.

Each year, he promotes, “From Hillsborough to Honolulu.” If bells were rung in unison across the United States, Washington believes it would dutifully honor the hard work of those who fought for the Bill of Rights and serve as a vital educational moment.

“My hope is that this event could be done from Hillsborough to Honolulu, across six time zones in the United States, in celebration of these great rights that define us as Americans – not only in terms of our differences, but in protection of them,” he said at last year’s event. “If you look at these [protections and rights] quite apart from the American experience, you realize that these are basic yearnings of the human heart. They are relevant now and throughout history. These have been things, values, that we all cherish.”