W. E. B. Du Bois
Gifted scholar, historian, sociologist and founder of the civil rights movement, Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is internationally renowned as one of the leading intellectuals of his time, and revered for his lifelong committment to the freedom of all peoples.
Du Bois was born in Great Barrington in 1868, “by a golden river in the shadow of two great hills,” into one of the founding families of the area. His fondness for the natural beauty of the Berkshire region is reflected throughout his writings as a deep understanding and respect for nature and ecology. Du Bois noted that the era into which he had been born was also greatly influential in his personal development, for this was the period of one of the greatest social experiments in United States history - the post-Civil War Reconstruction.
Du Bois demonstrated a keen intellect and developed a deep concern for the emancipation of Black citizens while still a teenager at Great Barrington High School. He began to write publicly on community news, particularly relating to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Society, as a local correspondent for the New York Globe at the age of fifteen.
With a scholarship and support from four local congregational churches, Du Bois enrolled at Fisk College (now University) in Nashville. This, his first journey to the South, opened his eyes to the depth of the racial divide in his country, and set the course for his life’s work.
His success at Fisk eventually led to the fulfillment of his boyhood dream to attend Harvard University. He entered Harvard as a junior, studied philosophy, history, economics and sociology, completed his bachelor’s degree in 1890, and his masters in 1891. After two years at the University of Berlin, he returned again to Harvard, and in 1896 became the first Black person to receive a PhD there.
In 1903, he wrote the seminal work The Souls of Black Folk, one chapter of which describes the death of his first-born son Burghardt, who is buried in Great Barrington. He went on to author numerous other books and studies on Black civilization and culture while continuing his research at the University of Pennsylvania and establishing the first Department of Sociology in the U.S. at Atlanta University. His innovative, scientific approach to sociological research has earned him the title ‘Father of Social Science.’
In 1905, Du Bois was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, which led to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For twenty-five years, he served as editor of the NAACP Magazine, The Crisis.
Du Bois became an international figure by helping to spearhead the Pan-African movement, and in 1945 he served as an associate consultant to the American delegation at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Persecuted as a radical in the latter years of his life, Du Bois eventually left the United States and took up citizenship in Ghana, (without renouncing U. S. citizenship), where he enthusiastically served as editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Africana. He died there on August 27, 1963, the eve of the March on Washington.
At the celebration of the 100th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’s birth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paid homage to Mr. Du Bois as a "tireless explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths.” “His singular greatness,” said King, “lay in his quest for truth about his own people."
Today, Du Bois’s boyhood homesite in the Berkshires is dedicated as a National Historic Landmark.
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Local Links and Contacts
Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church - the oldest Black institutional building in continual use in the county. Attended by Du Bois as a young man, the Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church has been instrumental in efforts to honor Dr. Du Bois’s legacy and holds an annual celebration of his birthday in February.
Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church
9 Elm Court, P.O. Box 294
Great Barrington, MA 01230
DuBoisweb.org’s essay on Du Bois’s connection to Great Barrington
W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite - established in 1969, dedicated as a National Historic Site in 1979, now managed by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Friends of the Du Bois Homesite - formed in 2006 to develop the Du Bois Homesite
P. O. Box 1018
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Commemoration of the Du Bois Homesite - includes a link to a rare eight-minute film of the 1969 dedication event
W. E. B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts, Amherst - the main campus library for the UMass Amherst, primarily serving users with resources in the Humanities and the Social and Behavioral Sciences. The W. E. B. Du Bois papers are held at the Special Collections of the Du Bois Library.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst Department of Special Collections and University Archives – Du Bois Central - a wealth of resources on Dr. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois River Garden and Park - Dedicated to Du Bois’s memory and acknowledges his love of the Housatonic River and the natural beauty of the Berkshires
Great Barrington Housatonic River Walk – a twenty-year community river restoration effort of 2,000 local volunteers
Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail - A project of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area - celebrating African American heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley through the creation of a heritage trail and related interpretive materials
African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley
David Levinson et al, ed
Berkshire Publishing Group LLC., Great Barrington, MA 2006
This book is the guide to the people and places on the African American Heritage Trail.
Great Barrington Historical Society - a non-profit organization formed in 1977 for the purpose of collecting and preserving material pertinent to the history of Great Barrington
Simon’s Rock College Library - has established the Du Bois collection on African American history and life and hosts an annual Du Bois lecture
The Du Bois Center of American History, Great Barrington - houses a collection of books and manuscripts relevant to Du Bois and other prominent African Americans
684 South Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Mason Library, Great Barrington - was used by James Weldon Johnson and houses a special local history collection
231 Main Street, Great Barrington MA 01230
Massachusetts Hall of Black Achievement at Bridgewater State College - Du Bois Biography
Railroad Street Youth Project - empowering young people by creating youth generated activities that promote responsibility, self-worth, and intergnerational communication - creators of a mural honoring W. E. B. Du Bois at the Taconic parking lot in Great Barrington
W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research
David Levering Lewis’s two volume biography of Du Bois, (the second of which won a Pulitzer Prize)
Lewis, David Levering
1993 W.E.B. Du Bois, Biography of a Race, 1868-1919. Henry Holt and
Company, New York, New York.
200 W.E.B. Du Bois, The Fight for Equality and the American Century,
1919-1963. Henry Holt and Company, New Yori, New York
University of Massachusetts, Amherst Department of Special Collections and University Archives
African American Perspectives - short biography
The Circle Association’s African American History of Western New York - biography and links to Du Bois’s work www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/0history/hwny-dubois.html
A Biographical Sketch of W. E. B. Du Bois by Gerald C. Hynes
Du Bois College House - University of Pennsylvania - includes a biography and resource links
Works by W. E. B. Du Bois on the Internet
Home Page for the Encyclopedia Africana that W. E. B. Du Bois co-founded
Du Bois’s FBI File, released under the Freedom of Information - Privacy Act