The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area (Housatonic Heritage) has received a $50,000 grant from the Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS) funded through the Historic Preservation Fund, African American Civil Rights grant program, for interpretive exhibit design at the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church.

Located in downtown Great Barrington, the former church is being restored for adaptive reuse as an African American visitor and cultural center that will educate the public about the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, and serve as a focal point for the presentation, interpretation, and documentation of African American history in the Upper Housatonic Valley.

The National Park Service African American Civil Rights grant award is part of $14 million awarded to 51 projects in 20 states that preserve sites and history related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century.

Housatonic Heritage has played a pivotal role in the restoration of the historic church, working with the nonprofit Clinton Church Restoration, which owns the deconsecrated church, since its formation in 2016. This is the second African American Civil Rights the  roject has received.

The first provided $388,508 for stabilization work at the National Register property, which is currently under construction. Clinton Church Restoration recently completed an interpretive planning process led by the exhibit design firm of Proun Design, and scholar/historian, Dr. Kendra Field.

Housatonic Heritage’s Executive Director, Dan Bolognani, voiced appreciation for the funding, noting that ongoing support from the Park Service is a strong signal of the project’s importance. “Clinton Church served as a hub of faith, action and social gathering for the Black community for more nearly 150 years,” Bolognani said. “Returning it to the center of community life in the hometown of author, scholar and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois is vital. Housatonic Heritage is pleased to play a pivotal role in this important and historic undertaking.”

“Dr. Du Bois wrote about the central role of the Black church in the life of the community—something he first witnessed right here in Berkshire County,” said Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “This funding will help us develop interpretive materials to educate the public about Great Barrington’s first Black church and its foundational role in the life of this pioneering civil rights leader.”

Wray Gunn, Chairman of the Clinton Church Restoration organization said “This grant is a milestone for the CCR to continue its mission to restore the iconic Clinton AME Zion Church for community use. Thanks to all who have given of their time and efforts to get this grant.”

The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area is a partnership program administered through the National Park Service, and serves the 29 communities of the Housatonic River watershed in MA and CT. Its mission is to illuminate the diverse, rich identity of the upper Housatonic River valley region and to preserve and promote its historical, cultural and natural resources. Details at www.HousatonicHeritage.org.

For more information about this project please contact Dan Bolognani at (860) 435-9505 or info@housatonicheritage.org. For questions regarding the African American Civil Rights grant program, or to comment on this or any other proposed Historic Preservation Fund grant project, please contact the State, Tribal, Local, Plans & Grants Division, National Park Service, at 202-354-2020 or stlpg@nps.gov.

(information obtained from a press release sent to WSBS from Housatonic Heritage for online and on air use, photo courtesy of Clinton Church Restoration)

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