Randy F. Weinstein: Happy birthday, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois
Generally, where we’ve been is a reasonable indicator of where we’re going.
As many know, for a long time Great Barrington struggled to embrace Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. There were times where our community tripped up, times that separated us, infuriated us and compromised our better angels. For a long time, history repeated itself with bigoted abandon. Yet the Great Barrington Select Board and community activists showed that the town’s historical cycle could be broken. In Maya Angelou’s words, while our past could not be unlived, by facing it with courage, it needn’t be lived again.
For Great Barrington, taking stock of its history has been transformational in determining who it is. As a community, to reckon with its complicated past, absorb its uncomfortable lessons and move past it — and in the process keep alive Dr. Du Bois’s legacy of singular scholarship and activism — took vision and Angelou-like courage. It also took keeping their word and leading by example to ensure that befitting amends were more than mere window dressing.
Last year, Great Barrington established W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Day, or Du Bois Day. By unanimous vote, the town’s Select Board had designated Feb. 23 — Dr. Du Bois’ birthday — an official day of community “reflection and celebration,” making Great Barrington the first municipality to etch his legacy into law. The unprecedented proclamation issued by the Select Board reflected and celebrated our shared community values and aspirations. It declared:
“Whereas, the Town of Great Barrington recognizes that W.E.B. Du Bois was born, raised, and educated in Great Barrington; and
“Whereas, the Town of Great Barrington honors W.E.B. Du Bois via road signs proclaiming the ‘Birthplace of W.E.B. Du Bois’ and the naming of the W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School; and
“Whereas, the Town of Great Barrington’s stated mission is ‘to preserve and promote Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois’s legacy as a scholar and activist for freedom, civil rights, progressive education, economic justice, and racial equality’; and
“Whereas, the Town of Great Barrington recognizes February 23 as the birthday of W.E.B. Du Bois, the premier architect of the Civil Rights Movement;
“Now Therefore, Be it Resolved by the Selectboard that the Town of Great Barrington shall also recognize W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Day (Du Bois Day) on February 23.
“Be it Further Resolved, the Town of Great Barrington shall provide a Town-sponsored program that celebrates W.E.B. Du Bois’s life and legacy.
“Be it Further Resolved, the Town of Great Barrington encourages businesses, organizations, and public entities to recognize Du Bois Day as a day of reflection and celebration.”
What a blessing, indeed, that our community has committed to memorialize Dr. Du Bois through annual Du Bois Day celebrations — commemorations of the spirit ensuring the preservation and promotion of his legacy of singular scholarship and activism for generations to come.
Happy birthday, dear Dr. Du Bois.