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Help us create an African American Cultural Heritage Center in the hometown of W.E.B. Du Bois

The Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church, located at 9 Elm Court in downtown Great Barrington, Massachusetts, was the spiritual, cultural, and political heart of African American life in the southern Berkshire community for nearly 130 years. Built in 1887 by the A.M.E. Zion Society, the church was a formative influence in the life of civil rights pioneer and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born and raised in this rural New England town.

A Community Mission
Clinton Church Restoration’s mission is to restore the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church for adaptive reuse as a vibrant cultural heritage center that interprets the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, honors the historic role of the church, and celebrates the Berkshires’ rich African American heritage.

Since 2016, a group of former congregants, community stakeholders, historians, designers and preservationists have been working collaboratively to develop plans for a new cultural heritage center that will serve as a community resource for local residents, an educational resource for students, and a destination for tourists. Key elements of the as-yet-unnamed center include:

    • Exhibits and programming that interpret the region’s rich African American history and the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois
    • Oral history recording studio
    • Talks, film screenings, concerts, and other events in a flexible performance space
    • Convenings of scholars, writers and artists from across the African diaspora
    • Community meeting space and fellowship hall with an adjacent kitchen
    • Visitor center that connects sites on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail by offering tours, maps and education about local history

To date, Clinton Church Restoration has secured over $2 million from 500-plus individuals, businesses, federal, state, municipal and foundation grants. An initial phase of stabilization and roof work has been completed, along with an interpretive plan, a preservation plan for the historic interiors, and schematic-level designs for the planned center. 

“This initiative will not only preserve an important piece of African American history in rural New England, it is vital to interpreting the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois in his hometown… Interpretative exhibits and programing at the church will add an important piece of the Du Bois story for visitors who come to Great Barrington to walk the grounds of his boyhood homesite, visit the downtown site of his birth and learn about his complicated life and legacy.” 

—David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning Du Bois biographer

Donate now to support this historic project

 

About

A Historic Church
The Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington was the spiritual, cultural, and political heart of Black life in the region for nearly 130 years. The A.M.E. Zion Society that built the church in 1886-87, was a formative influence in the life of Du Bois, the pioneering author, intellectual and NAACP co-founder who was born and raised in this small, rural town. The shingle-style church is also historically and architecturally significant for its association with the religious and cultural heritage of African Americans in rural New England and as a distinctive example of 19th-century vernacular church architecture. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The most enduring African American church in Berkshire County, the Clinton Church was more than a place of worship. The Sewing and Literary Societies hosted public readings, plays, debates, concerts, and guest speakers. The Children’s Mite Society offered music, rhetoric, and public speaking classes not otherwise available to Black students at the time. The church was also the focal point for social and political activism, driven first by the segregation and violence of the Jim Crow era and continuing into the 1950s and 1960s when it hosted the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP, early meetings of the housing agency Construct, and United Church Women, an ecumenical organization devoted to human rights, peace, and justice.

“The Clinton Church was my church home from childhood to adulthood. Within its walls, my moral values and sense of community were nurtured.”

—Everett Brinson, born 1938 in Great Barrington

The church closed its doors in 2014 and fell into severe disrepair. In 2017, the nonprofit Clinton Church Restoration purchased the deconsecrated church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a key site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. It was named one of Massachusetts’ Most Endangered Historic Resources in 2018. The preservation of the church is part of a growing movement to preserve African American historic places around the country.

A New Future
Clinton Church Restoration’s phased program to restore and repurpose the former church will return it to the center of community life in Du Bois’ hometown, where it will be transformed into a cultural hub inspired by his work as a seminal writer, scholar and activist of international stature. Exhibits and programming will also honor local African American history and culture. Key components of the center will be a flexible performance space, interpretive exhibits and artifacts, a visitor center, oral history recording studio, library, community meeting space and kitchen.

“Clinton Church Restoration’s carefully considered process will result in the preservation of a local landmark that will enrich the cultural landscape and contribute to the economic vitality of Great Barrington.”

—Paul W. Ivory, Great Barrington Historical Commission

Grant funding for the project has come from the National Park Service, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors, Massachusetts Historical Commission, Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, Mass Humanities, Town of Great Barrington, Jane & Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, Feigenbaum Foundation, and Housatonic Heritage. Additionally, COVID-related operating support has been provided by the Jane & Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, and by Mass Humanities through the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 CARES Act, and the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) Program.

News

Clinton Church Restoration Names New African American Cultural Heritage Center

GREAT BARRINGTON (June 9, 2022) — Clinton Church Restoration is pleased to formally announce that the African American cultural heritage center it has been developing since 2016 has been named the W. E. B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and ...
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New Funding Announced

A Mass Cultural Facilities Fund grant is the latest investment in Great Barrington’sdeveloping African American Cultural Heritage Center May 17, 2022 — Clinton Church Restoration has been awarded a $117,000 capital grant from MassDevelopment and the Mass Cultural Council, part ...
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A Legacy of Faith and Activism: Celebrating Rev. Esther Dozier

The late Rev. Esther Dozier, who initiated Great Barrington’s annual W. E. B. Du Bois birthday celebrations more than 20 years ago, will be honored on April 2 with a birthday celebration of her own. On what would have been ...
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Berkshire Black Oral History Collaborative Forms to Preserve African American Stories

Clinton Church Restoration Project, the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP, and the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College, have teamed up to form an oral history collaborative that will collect and preserve the stories of African ...
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NPS awards $495,322 grant for Clinton Church restoration

The historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, photo by Silo Media The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area (Housatonic Heritage) has received a $495,322 grant from the National Park Service for continued restoration work on the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion ...
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Outdoor Interpretive Display Installed

An outdoor interpretive display that looks to both the past and the future was installed at the Clinton Church Restoration project site on May 10, 2021. The eight-panel kiosk, which was developed in collaboration with the UMass Amherst Public History Program, uses images and text ...
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Rhapsody in Black, a Virtual Play and Community Conversation

This event has concluded. A recording of the community conversation is available here. In partnership with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Clinton Church Restoration is pleased to present Rhapsody in Black, a one-man show written and performed by LeLand Gantt ...
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Women of Color Giving Circle Annual Kwanzaa Celebration

Kwanzaa is a secular holiday that celebrates African and African American culture and history from Dec. 26th to January 1st. Each day, one of the 7 principles of Kwanzaa is represented. On December 29 at 6pm, the Women of Color ...
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African American Civil War Veterans and the Clinton Church

By David Levinson The role of Black Civil War veterans in Black communities in the North in the decades following the war is one that has been neglected in African American history. Recent research tells us that taken as a ...
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Online Community Read of The Souls of Black Folk

Classic work by W.E.B. Du Bois to be explored during Clinton Church Restoration's 14-week series GREAT BARRINGTON, MA, September 22, 2020 — Clinton Church Restoration is hosting an online community read of The Souls of Black Folk byW.E.B. Du Bois ...
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Donate

You can help make the Du Bois Freedom Center a reality!

Clinton Church Restoration is creating an African American heritage site and cultural center at the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington. Once restored, the Du Bois Freedom Center will offer a visitor center, interpretive exhibits, flexible performance space, and active contemporary programming that honors the church’s important role as a place of community, shares our region’s rich African American history, and interprets the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois.

*Your gift will help us preserve the past, connect it to the present, and inspire future generations!




 

Donate to the Du Bois Freedomd Center by mail:

Clinton Church Restoration
P.O. Box 1075
Great Barrington, MA 01230

Please make your check payable to Clinton Church Restoration, Inc. (dba The Du Bois Freedom Center)

Have questions? Contact us at admin [at] clintonchurchrestoration [ dot] org