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

Clinton Church Restoration (CCR) is restoring the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in downtown Great Barrington for adaptive reuse as an African American heritage site and cultural center dedicated to educating the public about the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois and the Berkshires’ rich African American history.

Located at 9 Elm Court, the church was the spiritual, cultural, and political heart of Black life in the southern Berkshire community 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 Great Barrington. 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.

Clinton Church Restoration’s phased program to restore and repurpose the former church, vacant since 2014, 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 commercial kitchen.

Restoration of this National Register property will not only save a key component of our rich catalogue of historic buildings, it will preserve a significant community legacy. The project is part of a growing national trend to save historically significant African American sites, and bring their hidden and untold stories into the light as part of our complex American story. In the Berkshires, the repurposed Clinton Church will enrich the cultural landscape and contribute to its economic vitality by creating a unique site of national (and international) significance.

“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

About

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, vacant for two years, had recently been deconsecrated and put on the market. With longtime congregant Wray Gunn serving as chair, the group 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 just five months and in May 2017, purchased the property.

Now a 501(c)(3),  Clinton Church Restoration’s mission is to restore the historic property for adaptive reuse as a vibrant heritage site and visitor center that interprets the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, celebrates the Berkshires’ rich African American heritage and honors the history of the church and the work of its first female pastor, the Rev. Esther Dozier.

A Plan for the Future

Clinton Church Restoration has 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. Efforts to date include:

    • Visioning Process (2017): The Jackson Design Group facilitated a public session and two charrettes to garner public input on the project and engage key stakeholders. 
    • Asset Mapping and Design Charette (2017): Partners for Sacred Places and the Jackson Design Group facilitated an asset mapping workshop and design charrette with architects and key stakeholders.
    • Historic Structure Report (2018): Undertaken by a team led by Clark and Green Architects, this 142-page HSR documents the church’s social and architectural history, assesses existing conditions, and identifies and prioritizes treatment recommendations.
    • Project Architect Hired (2019): The award-winning firm Huff + Gooden Architects was selected to lead the design team for the restoration.
    • Construction Kickoff (2019): General contractor Larochelle Construction began work in late October to replace the church roof and repair related damage.
    • Exhibit Design Team Hired (2020):  A team lead by Proun Design was selected to develop a comprehensive interpretive plan for the site, design all exhibits and interpretive elements, and oversee exhibit fabrication and installation.

The preservation of the historic Clinton Church, which is part of a growing movement to preserve African American historic places around the country, has garnered significant attention. In addition to local press, the project has been mentioned in Essence Magazine and Architectural Digest.

Grant funding for the project’s initial phase of stabilization work has come from the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants program, through CCR partner Housatonic Heritage, an emergency grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Projects Fund, Community Preservation Act funding from the Town of Great Barrington, and the Feigenbaum Foundation.

CCR has also received grants for planning and exhibit design 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 Cultural Facilities Fund, and the Jane & Jack Fitzpatrick Trust. Additional funding has been provided by Mass Humanities through the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 CARES Act.




News

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. The 14-week series, which will take place via Zoom, will begin Tuesday, October 13 at 7pm, and held weekly …

W.E.B. Du Bois to George Floyd: 150 Years of Resistance

The Triplex Cinema, Berkshire International Film Festival and Clinton Church Restoration present a weekend of free films GREAT BARRINGTON, MA, September 15, 2020 —The Triplex Cinema and Berkshire International Film Festival have teamed up with the nonprofit Clinton Church Restoration to offer a weekend of documentary films on October 3-4. The event will feature free live …

When Architecture and Racial Justice Intersect

“[W]hile it would be easy to think that architecture has little to do with racial justice and civil rights, the fight to save African American historic places proves that preservation is political. If we want to educate future generations about Black history in America, we need to work to preserve Black historic sites now.” —Architectural …

Contact

CONTACT US

Mailing Address
PO Box 1075
Great Barrington, MA 01230

email: admin [at] clintonchurchrestoration [dot] org

Location of Clinton Church
9 Elm Court
Great Barrington, MA 01230