OLLI Lecture: W.E.B. Du Bois: A Man For All Times, January 19th, 2018
olli Lecture: DU bois: Whiteness and Intersectionality
OLLi Lecture: Memory's Veil
Randy F. Weinstein
This is Great Barrington's time. Our Town makes me proud. By Great Barrington honoring W.E.B. Du Bois, it honors us. Great Barrington gets it. Just take a look outside. Despite the harshest weather, these days driving down Main Street and encountering banners identifying core Du Boisian issues like – Racial Equality, Economic Justice, Civil Rights, and Progressive Education – is PURE sunshine. And there's no turning back.
Ty Allen Jackson
Thank you to the Multicultural BRIDGE, NAACP and The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
In Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 14, 2017 there was a rally of white nationalist, neo-nazis and white supremacist. They marched on the street for all to see, spewing their rhetoric and narrow minded hatred for those who didn’t look like them. A young woman was killed in a murderous rage at this rally and numerous people who stood up to these traitors of love and equality were hurt and maimed.
The 45th president of these United States of America recognizes the persons who spew this rhetoric and killed this woman as very fine people.
I heard many friends and colleagues ask how this could happen in 2017. They were shocked and surprised, distraught and out-raged but I was not. In fact, many people of color across the country and around the world were not shocked for one simple reason.
This is America!
This is what it is has always been. Racism, bigotry, hate, enslavement and genocide are the foundations of this country. They are as American as apple pie and baseball.
But to be honest and not to sound sadistic, I am grateful for the events of Charlottesville (removing the death of an innocent woman and many being hurt) and I am grateful for the election of 45. Yes, I struggle with saying the words President Trump. But I am grateful in this aspect. It is easier to fight the enemy you can see as opposed to the one that you cannot. The problem is this enemy has always been here. It was always been in power. And it has always evolved. From white hoods to khakis and from grand dragons to the president of these United States.
The principles of W.E.B. Du Bois says we must evolve as well.
He said “Most men today cannot conceive of freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery.” This is where we are today. Where men in the streets will yell blood and soil and you will not replace us. These are the same things that Du Bois fought against over 100 years ago and we are still fighting today.
So I ask you, how do we change this?
A very good friend of mine and one of my mentors, Bob Sykes, once gave me the most amazing compliment and he said “Ty the thing I love about you the most is that you don’t ask for permission.”
There is such power in the concept of not asking for permission. W.E.D Du Bois did not ask for permission to start The Niagara movement, a group of African-American activist wanting equal rights for blacks. He did not ask for permission to create the Atlanta compromise helping Southern blacks receive equal treatment in basic education and economic opportunities. And he did not need to ask for permission to help start the NAACP.
So, if we are all here to honor this man, the best way to do so is to adopt his principles of education, empowerment and equality.
So I said you fellow citizens, friends and colleagues, what are you willing to do? What are you willing not to ask for permission for? I think we can all agree that these are struggling times and these are dangerous times, but these times have always existed. Our society has always moved forward by those who have not asked for permission. It is up to all of us, young and old, black and white, gay and straight, to stop hoping for an America of equality and to start doing what’s necessary.
Whether it’s to boycott places like H&M, or run for political office or teach a child how to read. If each of us was to take some form of action, we could evolve into a country that screams peace and love and not blood and soil.
To truly acknowledge and recognize the works and the principles of W.E.B. Bois and many leaders like him, it is our obligation to pick up the hammer of righteousness and pound away at the foundation of hate and bigotry in this country. It is up to us to do the work and not ask for permission in making this truly the place were all men and women are created equal.
I’d like to end my speech with this old proverb.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
I am John Bissell, President of Greylock Federal Credit Union. I’m joined by one of our Directors, Ty Jackson, and my beautiful and patient wife, Melissa.
I want to thank the town of Great Barrington, Gwendolyn VanSant of Multicultural BRIDGE, and Randy Weinstein of Du Bois Center of Great Barrington for making this night – and this entire month – a powerful celebration of an American icon. A quick personal story – I recall taking a literature class in college, and week after week sitting next to a student from South Africa. I remember him clearly because he knew far more about American literature and history than me – but I overcame my embarrassment and we got to be friends, and we shared a bit about our personal lives, his experiences growing up black under apartheid in Johannesburg and mine growing up in lily white Dalton, MA. And one day he turned to me and said, in his rich South African accent – “Hey Bissell, I was reading that W. E. B. Du Bois was actually born in your Berkshire County. That’s amazing.” After months of being intimidated by this guy I was finally ready to feel some pride, until he said, “How could such a powerful leader and such a brilliant thinker have come from a backwater town like Great Barrington?” My first instinct was to object, and explain all the great things about Great Barrington, and the Berkshires. That Great Barrington was one of the first towns in America to have electric lights, and that Crane Paper in Dalton makes all the US currency, and Moby Dick was written in Pittsfield, and Tanglewood is the home of the BSO and so on and so on. But I stopped and didn’t say anything, because I was pretty sure that in that year of 1987, if I took him on a personal guided tour of Great Barrington, we would find very little evidence that our community embraced Du Bois, his principled leadership or his life.
I want to thank everyone in Great Barrington, in the Berkshires, and throughout the country that is working to correct this. You only turn 150 once, so a month-long celebration is very appropriate this year! But perhaps Du Bois’s birthday can become something we mark every year, in some way.
My friend posed the question, how could such an amazing person get his start in a place like this? The truth is, hundreds of amazing things and incredible people got their start in Berkshire County. I think a better question for us today is, what are we doing to nurture, and celebrate, the talent we have right here at home. How are we recognizing the best of our young people, the next W. E. B. Du Bois that is coming up through our public schools now as he did in the late 1800s?
Du Bois’s example and his words are always timely, but never more so than now. At Greylock we feel a tremendous sense of urgency to make progress in our Berkshire County toward full financial inclusion for all people, regardless of class or race. As a Harvard-trained sociologist, Du Bois incisively proved the connections between racism, economic exclusion and political power. If he were alive today he might be encouraged by some signs of progress in addressing the injustice of the “color line,” as he called it, but he would be sounding the trumpets about the financial inequality that still exists along the color line, with white high school dropouts owning more wealth than black college graduates.
Our sense of urgency at Greylock is stoked by Du Bois’s call to arms in his master work, “The Souls of Black Folk,” when he exhorted readers to start – working – NOW – to achieve a more just society. “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow.”
Thank you all for being here tonight, let’s keep this momentum going, and please know that Greylock will be your partner in all of this vital work.