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 her 80th birthday, the first female pastor at the historic Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church will be feted at Saint James Place in Great Barrington. The community is invited to join the 4 p.m. celebration, which will include music, tributes, and refreshments.
“Rev. Dozier worked tirelessly to promote the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois in Great Barrington,” says Wray Gunn, Sr., president of Clinton Church Restoration, which is organizing the upcoming celebration. “She was just thrilled to find out that Du Bois was involved with our church. She made it her ambition to do as much for his legacy as she could.”
In 2001, Dozier led the town’s first annual Du Bois birthday celebration. “Honoring Our History: A Celebration of W. E. B. Du Bois” included a lecture by David Graham Du Bois and a program by students from the Jubilee School in Philadelphia. Under Dozier’s leadership, the Clinton Church — long a center of social activism — became a hub for activities related to the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite and Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. In the mid-2000s, Dozier collaborated closely with David Levinson on his book, Sewing Circles, Dime Suppers, and W. E. B. Du Bois: A History of the Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church (Berkshire Publishing, 2007) and began the nomination process that eventually led, in 2008, to the listing of the Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church on the National Register of Historic Places.
Born in rural Alabama, Dozier was raised in poverty but taught by her mother to dream big. As a young woman, she moved to the Berkshires with two of her sisters. Active in the Clinton Church for four decades, she served as its pastor for nearly nine years, the first woman (after 48 men) to hold the role since the church’s founding in the 1860s.
Dozier believed that the church was a place for refueling but her activities and influence extended far into the community. In addition to lifting up Black history and culture and the legacy of Du Bois, she spoke passionately against injustice, intolerance, and socio-economic inequality. She was a strong supporter of the housing organization Construct, which decades earlier had operated out of the Clinton Church basement, and was a frequent participant in charitable and interfaith activities. She thought of herself as a woman who “let love shine through her,” remembers Rev. Mattie Conway, noting the phrase was a reference to her sister’s favorite song, Day Star.
“My aunt was so much about the future,” says Dozier’s nephew Delano Burrowes, a Brooklyn-based artist who is helping to plan the upcoming celebration. “She planted seeds for a lot of the conversations we’re having today. Her legacy prompts us to think of our own — what are we doing about the future? How can we live up to her ideals of hope, action, and service to our communities?”
April 2 Tribute
“Esther had such an impact on me personally, and on Jubilee’s history,” says Jubilee School founder Karen Falcon, who has returned to Great Barrington with students several times since 2001 and will travel from Philadelphia to speak at the event. “She was an amazing person and had a legendary role in inspiring the town of Great Barrington to celebrate its native son, W. E. B. Du Bois. This tribute to her is richly deserved.”
Burrowes is one of three family members who will speak at the event. Joining him will be Rev. Conway, who is co-pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church, and Virginia Conway, Dozier’s sister-in-law and a longtime Clinton Church member. Jubilee School founder Karen Falcon, who has brought students to Great Barrington to learn about Du Bois several times since 2001, will also speak.
Musical selections will be offered by the Price Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church Choir and Dr. MaryNell Morgan-Brown, both regular performers at Clinton Church and Du Bois-related events in Great Barrington.
The celebration will be held on April 2, 2022, at 4 pm at Saint James Place, 352 Main Street Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A reception will follow the program. There is no charge for this community event. Contributions to help restore the historic Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Church may be made in Rev. Dozier’s memory at the event or online.