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W.E.B. Du Bois Center gets $1.1 million grant to help restore a historic Black church in Great Barrington

Du Bois center

Eugenie Sills, left, interim executive director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy in Great Barrington, holds up a drawing of the plans inside the historic church during a celebration last summer. A $1.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will support the final phase of restoration of the center. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy to support the completion of the current phase of restoration work on the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church building.

The grant also will pay for other aspects of leadership, staffing and programming for the interpretive center and Du Bois Forum.

David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois and honorary chair of the Du Bois Freedom Center’s national advisory council, paved the way for this multifaceted grant from the Mellon Foundation, in collaboration with historian-in-residence Kendra Field and interim Executive Director Eugenie Sills.

Lewis has called the undertaking “the first living memorial dedicated to the legacy of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in North America.”

“A lot has been accomplished since we started this effort in 2016,” said Wray Gunn Sr., president of the Center and longtime member of the Clinton Church.

The award will support the completion of the building’s remaining structural work and architectural and exhibition design plans for the new center; the launch of a national search for a permanent executive director with experience in major gifts fundraising and management of a cultural institution dedicated to the African American experience; and the engagement of Field, current historian-in-residence, in the newly created role of Du Bois forum director.

A partnership with the African-American Trail Project at Tufts University, the forum held its inaugural retreat for scholars, writers and artists of color in the Berkshires last summer. The grant provides funding for both positions, as well as additional public programming, through 2025.

With this funding in place and the search for an executive director underway, Sills has transitioned to a project management role at the center. She will continue to oversee the design and restoration work, manage related capital grants and pursue funding for the ongoing restoration.

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