The following was written by the 8th grade, Class of 2012, and presented during the Spring Assembly in April, 2012.
What would you do if you were faced with discrimination and heartache because of the color of your skin? What if you could not drink from the same water fountain or go to the same restaurants as white people? What if the rights assured to you by our constitution were taken away? Would you tolerate it, or would you take a stand? A man who grew up here in the town of Great Barrington took a stand.
“I was born by a golden river in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation….”
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born here and grew up as a young black man in a white community. He went to an integrated school near Searles Castle. He then graduated from Fiske, Harvard, and Berlin Universities.
You may know some of the places where he played. During the winter he sledded down Castle Street, right across the Railroad tracks and onto Main Street! He played Indians in the caves on East Rock and swam in the Housatonic River. From an early age he visited the town meetings and became interested in politics. He was an excellent student, and since his mother could not afford college, the Congregational Church here in town funded his education.
As a boy here in Great Barrington, DuBois lived a life sheltered from the cruel Jim Crow laws of the South. He knew that he was different, however…
“I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Housac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards–ten cents a package–and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card-refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others, or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut from their world by a vast veil.”
W.E.B. Dubois became determined to use his mind and his gift for writing to fight the battle against racial injustice. He started a magazine called, “The Crisis” and wrote many books. He helped to found the NAACP. He is considered to be the father of the Civil Rights Movement. He felt his strong African roots, and at the end of his life he moved to Ghana where he died at age 95.
DuBois’ legacy lives on in his hometown in an inspirational mural. The DuBois garden at the bottom of Church St. by the “golden river” cleanses the water of polluting runoff just as W.E.B. DuBois tried to cleanse America of racism.