6 July 2014

W. E. B. Du Bois in Great Barrington, MA (revisited)

'W. E. B. Du Bois
Boyhood Homesite
University of Massachusetts Amherst'

This leaflet is published by the W. E. B. Du Bois National Historic Homesite and its title states 'It is time to honor this influential African American'. On the reverse it says that this is the 'only public place in the United States' dedicated to the life and ideals of Du Bois (1868–1963). I hadn't been aware of the place when I first visited Great Barrington in 2011, so took the opportunity to do so this time.

A trail with seven information posts like the one above weave through the (this mid-June, mosquito-infested) woods, each giving fresh details about what the leaflet describes as 'a scholar, a champion of civil rights, and an international activist for peace' who 'fought for democracy and freedom in a world of racial and economic injustice'. I can think of no one of his stature who exists today, although the world is still very much in great need of such a person.

This boulder was placed here in 1969 by the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Committee to commemorate the man's life and work. By the boulder is a plaque which contains a number of quotations apparently written by Julian Bond, the most chilling of which I thought was this so very true sentence:

'Violence is an economy that believes in socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.'

This site is a mile or so from Great Barrington itself, where Du Bois was born on Church Street. The small photo on the marker above shows Mary Silvina Burghardt with her son William in 1868. He moved here, with his mother and half-brother Idelbert, to the home of his grandparents Othello and Sally Burghardt when he was two. By the time he was five he had moved back to Great Barrington, although in 'The House of the Black Burghardts' (1928) he says that this is 'the first home that I remember'.

Du Bois always maintained a sentimental attachment for the house, and in 1928, on his 60th birthday, a group of his friends throughout the country gave the house to him. By 1954 the house was in a very bad state of repair and Du Bois, at the age of 84, sold the house to a neighbor who demolished it.

To the left of the platform above this photo, the remains of the chimney.

On another information panel is a beautiful quotation by W. E. B. Du Bois, from his book I Take My Stand for Peace (1951):

'I want progress; I want education; I want social medicine; I want a living wage and old-age security; I want employment for all and relief for the unemployed and the sick; I want public works, public services, and public improvements. I want freedom for my people. And because I know and you know that we cannot have these things, and at the same time fight, destroy and kill all around the world in order to make huge profit for big business – for that reason, I take my stand behind the millions in every nation and continent and cry Peace – No More War!'

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