Storytellers: The Clinton AME Zion Church
Storytelling is an integral part of history. Stories teach, they inspire, they motivate, they caution. Stories tell where you have been and where you are and were you hope to go in the future.
Preservation Massachusetts is excited to this new bi-monthly feature we are calling Storytellers.Through Storytellers we will share a local preservation story that can serve to educate and inspire others. We launch this new series with an inspiring story of an historic African American Church in Great Barrington and the dedicated advocates who banded together to save it.
The Path to Restoration
The Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church, Great Barrington
Writing by Hannah Van Sickle
Wray Gunn’s affiliation with the Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts dates back to 1942. Gunn recalls Sundays as a boy, after relocating to the Berkshires from Henderson, North Carolina with his mother and two brothers: “We had a long trek to get to church,” he recounts. “There was a good singing choir, and I can remember the preacher—similar to the one in the south—very noisy, and his voice ringing through the chapel. It was exciting, but I was in a strange land—things were different—and I don’t know if I appreciated being in the church,” he says. In the ensuing seven decades, Gunn’s position has evolved markedly.
The history of Clinton Church dates back to its dedication in 1887. The building itself, a distinctive example of traditional New England shingle style architecture, currently stands empty and in disrepair. In many ways the iconic bell tower—sheathed in white clapboards but missing a bell—serves as a fitting symbol of the congregation’s purpose, one rooted in the practical allocation of resources that allowed it to become the spiritual, cultural and political home for the African American community in the Southern Berkshires. The church was a place of significance for civil rights activist and Great Barrington native son W.E.B. Du Bois.
In the congregation’s 130 year history, community members have gathered off the beaten path—to a locale tucked between Main Street and the railroad tracks—for Sunday sermons, dime suppers and sewing circles. In 2014, faced with a declining