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.