This weekend, the Triplex Cinema and Berkshire International Film Festival are presenting a movie series titled “W.E.B. Du Bois to George Floyd: 150 Years of Resistance.” Four documentaries about famous African American activists, thinkers and social movements will be screened live and online, with a portion of the streaming cost going to the Clinton Church Restoration project. WAMC Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes spoke with Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed from the CCR’s board of directors about the effort to restore the historic Black church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and how the film series plays into its larger mission to restore local Black narratives to the public consciousness.
JONES-SNEED: The church was the second Black church formed in Berkshire County. And it was formed by probably ex-enslaved people who came to Great Barrington and found that there was no place of worship except white churches. And so they wanted a place of their own. And so they started meeting fairly early, and then eventually got a church. And from this church, W.E.B. Du Bois, when he was a boy- teenager, actually- attended some of the meetings and reported out what they were doing. He, even as a teenager, was very, very interested in political and social issues of African Americans. And this was the largest congregation of Blacks that he had come upon in Great Barrington, and that his ancestors came to Great Barrington. But there were very, very few blacks in that area before the migration of African Americans after the Civil War started to filter in.
WAMC: Now, you talk about restoring the church- What would the outcome of that project look like? What would a restored Clinton Church be?
We hope that the church will look like a African American heritage and cultural center that will encapsulate the stories of not only African Americans in Great Barrington, but African Americans in Berkshire County period, and give people a place to come and learn about that history. Because so far there has been very little notice of African Americans' impact in this area. We are very fortunate to have someone like W.E.B. Du Bois born in Great Barrington who went on to do such great work. But we also have Samuel Harrison, who was the chaplain of the Massachusetts 54th, who was a minister of the first Black church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. There's also Elizabeth Freeman, who was the first slave woman to fight for her freedom and win it. We have Agrippa Hull, who was a Revolutionary War hero, and aided Tadeusz Kościuszko in the Revolutionary War. And we have James Van Der Zee who became almost the official photographer of the Harlem Renaissance. And we could go on and on and on with African Americans who came through or from the Berkshires. But I don't think that story is known in any kind of way. And so this center would provide that kind of information, as well as program for contemporary issues as well, like the film series is trying to do.
So let's turn to the film series, "W.E.B. Du Bois, George Floyd: 150 Years of Resistance" weekend to free films." These movies explore the lives of James Baldwin, John Lewis, Du Bois himself. Tell me about the series. What do you hoping it's going to bring to folks here in the Berkshires?
I hope that it will bring to the Berkshires the rich kind of heritage of African Americans, period, in the United States. And that the center is not only going to be about history, but also about activism, the activism of African Americans. We would be remiss if we did not talk about Du Bois and his history of activism. And I think that that's what the film series is trying to do, is to- "Du Bois in Four Voices," actually giving a kind of a visual biography of Du Bois's life. And of course, the great James Baldwin who, you know, spent his life really talking about the African American condition in the United States. And then John Lewis, who just passed, was such a great spokesman for the civil rights movement. So I think that that's what we are trying to do, that we are trying to link a local history to the national history of this country.