New England Preservation: Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

By Carla Charter

GREAT BARRINGTON, MA. – A church in Great Barrington stands as a reminder of the importance of the history of its people and its relevance to the history of every citizen. Preservation efforts are underway for the Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Once completed the former church will be used as an African American Culture Center to tell the history of African Americans in the Great Barrington and the beginnings of the civil rights icon, W.E.B DuBois.

The Clinton Church is the longest standing black church in Berkshire County, with the cornerstone of the church having been laid in 1887, according to Wray Gunn, former parishioner and chairman of the Clinton Church Restoration Committee. The church closed in 2014. “It has been a cultural spiritual and political home of the African American Community for many years. This was my church. I have been going there since the forties. I loved the church and did not think it should be torn down,” Gunn said.

The Mass AME Conference decided to sell the church building The Clinton Church Restoration Committee formed and through donations raised $100,000 to buy the church.   The project has recently received a $389,000 grant from the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants Program to assist in repairs and restoration. Among repairs that need to be done at the church building include roof repairs and the addressing of a drainage problem around the church.

The church holds potential national significance because of it being the only standing building in Great Barrington with a link to DuBois.  DuBois, although not a church member, attended events at the Clinton Church and covered meetings at the church as a reporter for several black newspapers.

Once the church is restored it will become an African American Heritage Center highlighting the early life of Dubois, who was born in Great Barrington as well as former pastor, the late Rev. Ernesta Dozier and legacy of African American History in the area.

“It will allow the church to resume an important function of all black churches have been doing for so many years.  People who visit will learn about Dubois and Great Barrington. There will be a link to papers at UMass Amherst who is the keeper of the DuBois papers,” according to Beth Carlson, Clinton Church Restoration Board member. Other noted members of the church included Weldon Johnson who wrote the Negro National Anthem and Van Der Zee a nationally known photographer.

The church has also become part of the W.E.B. Dubois Trail in Great Barrington. “The trail leads visitors through the places where he grew up and learn how these places contributed to who he became.”  according to trail director Rachel Fletcher.  The DuBois Trail is part of a larger African American Trail created in 2006 with a number of different trails, including a 54th Ma. Regiment trail and a ‘Mom Bet’ Freeman Trail.

Donations can be sent to Clinton Church Restoration, P.O. Box 1075, Great Barrington, Ma. 01230. More information can be found at www.gbclintonchurch.org. The Berkshire African American Trail can be found at www.africanamericantrail.org