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 Democracy. The public is invited to a celebration and commemorative unveiling of the name and logo on June 10 at 12 noon on the lawn of 9 Elm Court in Great Barrington.
The mission of the Du Bois Freedom Center is to educate the public about the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W. E. B. Du Bois and the rich African American heritage of the Berkshires. Located at the former Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, where Du Bois was born and raised, this vibrant center of Black thought and remembrance constitutes the first museum and living memorial in North America dedicated to his life and legacy.
Formed in the late 1860s as the A. M. E. Zion Society, the Clinton Church was the first Black institution of Du Bois’ life. Although he left Great Barrington at age 17, Du Bois returned for visits throughout his life and spoke at the church on Elm Court in 1894. A scholar, author, and activist, Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and became one of the preeminent intellectuals of the 20th century. An architect of the Civil Rights Movement, he cofounded the NAACP and edited its influential magazine, The Crisis.
“An appropriate appreciation of Du Bois is long overdue, both nationally and locally,” said Dr. David Levering Lewis, whose two-volume biography of Du Bois was awarded back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes. “The W. E. B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy presents a singular opportunity to reclaim and extend in Du Bois’ hometown, the Black intellectual, artistic traditions, and social movements to which he dedicated his life’s work.” Lewis, who will serve as honorary chair of the Center’s National Advisory Council, will give remarks at Friday’s event.
While the Du Bois Freedom Center is a new entity, the project’s lineage dates back to 1967, when Dr. Edmund W. Gordon and Walter Wilson purchased Du Bois’ boyhood homesite on the outskirts of town. The following year, on Du Bois’ 100th birthday, they formed the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Committee “to honor his memory and to perpetuate and extend his work.” The site was dedicated as a memorial park in 1969 and is now a National Historic Landmark stewarded by UMass Amherst. Dr. Gordon, now 101, has endorsed the new Du Bois Freedom Center and pledged his support for the project.
“This is a historic announcement for our project and our town,” said Clinton Church Restoration president Wray Gunn, Sr., whose father, David Gunn, was one of the Memorial Committee’s original incorporators. “W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the country’s foremost intellectuals and certainly the most consequential person to be born and raised in Great Barrington yet his contributions have never been fully recognized.”
Gunn, who attended the Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church for more than 70 years and was a longtime trustee, is not only carrying on the work of his father but that of the late Rev. Esther Dozier, who worked tirelessly to promote Du Bois’ legacy.
Community support and key partnerships — with the W. E. B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst, Housatonic Heritage and the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, and now the African American Trail Project at Tufts University — have contributed to the project’s success to date. The organization has raised more than $2 million, completed an initial phase of stabilization work, and developed an interpretive plan and schematic-level designs for the Center.
More information about the new Center will be available at duboisfreedomcenter.org, which will also launch on June 10.