A Historic Church
Dedicated in 1887, the Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, served as the spiritual, cultural and political home for the local African American community for nearly 130 years. It was also a place of significance for author and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born and raised in Great Barrington. Du Bois scholars have called the church “a crucible that nurtured the spirit and honed the skills of ‘Willie’ Du Bois” and “a place of continual and important social reference for him.”
Tucked away at 9 Elm Court in the heart of downtown, the church is a distinctive example of 19th-century vernacular church architecture. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places, and is a key site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. In 2018, Preservation Massachusetts added the church to its list of Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resources.
A Community Mission
Clinton Church Restoration was formed in late 2016 by a group of local community members concerned about the fate of the historic property. The church, which had been vacant for two years, had recently been deconsecrated and put on the market. With longtime congregant Wray Gunn serving as chair, the group quickly incorporated as a Massachusetts nonprofit and began fundraising to save the church. Thanks to the contributions of more than 400 donors, we surpassed our initial $100,000 fundraising goal in five months and purchased the property in May 2017.
Now a 501(c)(3), Clinton Church Restoration’s goal is to preserve and repurpose the historic property as a vital, self-sustaining entity for community use that celebrates and honors the local African American community, the church’s 130-year history and its first female pastor, Rev. Esther Dozier, and the legacy of Great Barrington’s most famous native son, W.E.B. Du Bois.
A Plan for the Future
We have been working with key stakeholders, architects, designers, planners, and consultants to develop a plan for the preservation and ultimate use of the property since the beginning. Community input from two multi-day planning sessions held in 2017 has been incorporated into a visioning report and preliminary interpretative plan for the project. A 142-page Historic Structure Report, completed in January 2018, documents the building’s social and architectural history, existing conditions and identifies and prioritizes treatment recommendations.
The preservation of the historic Clinton Church, which is part of a growing movement to preserve African American historic places around the country, has already garnered national attention. In 2018, the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants program awarded a grant to Housatonic Heritage for Clinton Church Restoration’s initial stabilization and planning phase. The project has also received a Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund emergency grant from the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and Community Preservation Act funding from the Town of Great Barrington.
Please join us! We invite you to explore this site to learn more about our activities and meet our board of directors and advisory board. Stay updated by adding your name to our mailing list below. Donations to the project may be made here.