By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — When W.E.B. Du Bois is on the agenda, it's a happy night at Town Hall.
Anticipation met excitement, and expressions of gratitude were abundant as a local group organizing a long festival for William Edward Burghardt Du Bois' 150th birthday celebration got permission from the town Selectboard on Monday to hang banners in his honor, in the town where he was born and raised.
Those will go up soon in the downtown area and near his Boyhood Homesite off Route 23.
The approval was just one step in the kickoff for a festival that will run from Jan. 15 to Feb. 23 to honor the African-American scholar, civil rights leader and author.
Led by festival committee co-chairs Randy Weinstein and Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant, the committee has arranged a rich assortment of events in town during the week that begins Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and will extend to Jan. 18.
Events will include music and theater tributes, film screenings, readings by young writers, talks by Du Bois scholars, exhibits and walk-throughs of the Du Bois Boyhood Homesite and family gravesite.
All is supported by local organizations, individuals and businesses, according to Hampton-VanSant, who is CEO and founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, whose mission it is to help bring cultural competency to Berkshire County residents, groups and institutions.
The celebrations continue through February, culminating in events Feb. 23, which would be the 150th birthday of the man who was born here in 1868.
Local honors have been a long time coming, as the town, over the years, wrestled with Du Bois' legacy because of what many scholars say is a misunderstanding of his complex and powerful thinking that shifted debates about race and class.
Du Bois, they say, was a giant of word and thought. A website set up for the festival, DuBois150th.com, delivers this quote from former NAACP President Cornell Brooks, who spoke at Bard College at Simon's Rock last year.
"I can't imagine any town with so important, so titanic of a figure in American history not claiming and exulting W.E.B. Du Bois as its own," Brooks said. "He's one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th century. That's like Princeton denying that Einstein lived there."
Others who study his work say Du Bois is increasingly relevant.
"A fount of useable wisdom regarding hot-button issues like racial equality and justice, health care, employment and universal brotherhood," said Randy Weinstein, director of the Du Bois Center Great Barrington. "He was a speaker of uncomfortable truths and a public school laureate of progressive education."
According to his autobiographies and correspondence, Du Bois loved Great Barrington, a town where residents helped him attend Harvard University. Now, town officials, schools and residents want to fully embrace an extraordinary man.
Ari Cameron, a Multicultural BRIDGE volunteer who is also working with Railroad Street Youth Project youths on a series of new Du Bois murals in town, came to the Selectboard just to thank its members for helping to bring Du Bois' legacy alive.
"l love spending time at his boyhood homesite, the Green River, where he learned to swim and fish, and walking through town and knowing he walked the same streets," Cameron said. "Du Bois' legacy will grow as he becomes an even more prominent figure in the hearts and minds of Great Barrington residents."
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
Kickoff schedule for W.E.B. Du Bois 150th Festival
All events are in Great Barrington, unless otherwise noted
Monday, Jan. 15, noon-1 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Interfaith Service (reception to follow)
First Congregational Church, 251 Main St.
Thursday, Jan. 18, 3:30-5 p.m.
Opening reception, festival exhibit and gallery walk, unveiling of Du Bois mural with Railroad Street Youth Project, Young Writers for Justice (young Berkshire voices respond to work of Du Bois)
The Triplex Cinema, 70 Railroad St.
Friday, Jan. 19, 6-9 p.m.
"W.E.B. Du Bois: A Man for All Time," a one-man, 80-minute play written and directed by Alexa Kelly, featuring Brian Richardson and a performer from Jacob's Pillow. Free admission; donations accepted to support the Du Bois Center and Multicultural BRIDGE.
Feb. 10, 3-5 p.m.
"The Enduring Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois" with Dr. Jamall Calloway
Great Barrington Historical Society, Searles Castle, 389 Main St.
Feb. 11, 3 p.m.
Du Bois Musical Tribute: Larry Walach, MaryNell Morgan, Wanda Houston, Rodney Mashia and Misty Blues, fronted by Gina Coleman
Suggested donation: $10
Saint James Place, 352 Main St.
Feb. 18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Du Bois Reflections with Macedonia Baptist Church, Multicultural BRIDGE and Harmony Homestead & Wholeness
Macedonia Baptist Church, 9 Rosseter St.
Feb. 18, 4-5 p.m.
Harmony Homestead & Wholeness, 101 West End Road, Hillsdale, N.Y.
Feb. 19, 7-10 p.m.
Movie screening: "Du Bois in Four Voices" with Dr. Wesley Brown and Judge Harold Ramsey and Macedonia Baptist Church
Berkshire South Regional Community Center, 15 Crissey Road
W.E.B. Du Bois Birthday Celebration
1-3 p.m., First Congregational Church, 251 Main St.
"Prologue to Greatness: W.E.B. Du Bois and Great Barrington" with Dr. David Lewis "Sounding the Trumpet: Celebrating W.E.B. Du Bois" with Dr. Cornell Brooks
"The Soul Within: A Tribute to W.E.B. Du Bois" with Craig Harris
3-7 p.m., Festival walk at Great Barrington sites
Railroad Street Youth Project mural presentation
Mason Library exhibit: "Still Sounding the Call: An Exhibit of W.E.B. Du Bois Artifacts"
Town Hall gallery: "Let Freedom Ring: A Gallery of W.E.B. Du Bois Images"
Great Barrington Historical Society student art exhibit
Du Bois Center of Great Barrington - Boyhood Site - family gravesite
7-9 p.m., Du Bois Educational Series
Dr. Reiland Rabaka, Guy Davis, Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste
Du Bois Youth Ensemble & More
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) events at Bard College at Simon's Rock Lecture Center, 84 Alford Road
Jan. 26, 3:30-5 p.m.
Du Bois Festival Introduction by 150th Committee with Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, Randy Weinstein and Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant
Feb. 2, 3:30-5 p.m.
"Whiteness and Intersectionality" with Dr. Francisca Ogoyoa
Feb. 9, 3:30-5 p.m.
"Memory's Last Veil: Du Bois and the Politics of Remembering Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction" with Dr. Justin Jackson
Feb. 16, 3:30-5 p.m.
"The Voice of Time: Classical German Thought and the Ethics of Progress in Du Bois' Souls of Black Folk" with Dr. Michael Saman