W.E.B. Du Bois’ complex legacy should be honored

By Letter to the Editor, Monday, Feb 19


To the Editor:

On February 23rd, the Town of Great Barrington will celebrate the 150th birthday of one of its most important and influential residents, William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois. Friday evening, at an event I’m looking forward to attending, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center will host an evening honoring this man and his legacy. An African-American sociologist, activist, and writer, Du Bois was instrumental, through his ceaseless study, writing, and advocacy, in fighting for civil rights for the African American community. Du Bois’ legacy is complex, yet certainly worthy of our attention. He embraced the gift of family and community. His relentless pursuit of human rights took him from Great Barrington High School (predecessor to Searles High School), to Fisk University, to the halls of Harvard, and, ultimately, to the NAACP. In his schooling, Du Bois broke ground as the first African American graduate and also valedictorian of the town high school and as Harvard University’s first African American doctoral degree recipient. Rising above political disputes, Du Bois should be honored for his passion, vision, and commitment to the betterment of society. This dedication to cause ultimately forced him leave his community and nation. Despite his physical departure, his proud legacy lives on today.

Walking around campus at Harvard this weekend, my eye was drawn to a poster advertising the 150th Birthday Anniversary Concert hosted by the Harvard Du Bois Orchestra. This undergraduate ensemble, inspired by the work of W. E .B. Du Bois, seeks to raise campus awareness on issues of social exclusion in classical music. The W. E. B. Du Bois Graduate Society and W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute, both at Harvard University, carry on his advocacy for equality and civil rights. On the Amherst campus, UMass named in his honor one of its two campus libraries, which contains over 100,000 items of correspondence from his lifetime. In Great Barrington, the Du Bois Center, headed by Randy Weinstein, and the W. E. B. Du Bois National Historic Site Working Committee, remain committed to ensuring that Du Bois, his story, and his works are preserved and available for the consumption of present and future generations. For anyone, much less an African American young man in the late 1800s, to rise from a small rural town such as Great Barrington to a place of lasting prominence on the national stage, is nothing short of extraordinary. Today, in our world of sensationalized celebrities and public leaders, W. E. B. Du Bois serves as a shining example of how one passionate and motivated individual, from humble beginnings, can drive change in the world and leave it a better place. On Friday we celebrate this native son. Let’s not just make it one day, though, but always.

Joe Grochmal

The writer is a student at Harvard University in Cambridge.