BRIDGE Hosts National and Local Leaders and Activists in Celebrating Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois with Memorial Service for Civil Rights Icon’s Granddaughter
EVENTS ARE IN COLLABORATION WITH THE 5TH ANNUAL LEGACY FESTIVAL OF DR. W.E.B. DU BOIS IN HIS HOMETOWN OF GREAT BARRINGTON, MASSACHUSETTS
Great Barrington, MA - February 15, 2022 - BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups through Education), a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting accountability and positive social change work, announces upcoming events to celebrate the life and legacy of Berkshires native son, civil rights pioneer, NAACP founder and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois during Black History Month. This year, the occasion is even more notable, as Dr. Du Bois’ only grandchild, Dr. Yolande “Du Bois” Williams Irvin, is laid to rest in her family’s gravesite at the Mahaiwe Cemetery in Great Barrington. Commemorative events will be held throughout the Berkshires, including a memorial service–hosted by BRIDGE–officiated and attended by dignitaries and social justice leaders from across the nation. Additionally, events presented by the Town of Great Barrington’s 5th Annual W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival is with BRIDGE as collaborating partner for the fifth consecutive year.
Before she passed away last November, Dr. Williams Irvin (known as “Du Bois”) asked to be buried in the family plot, where she would join her grandmother, Nina Yolande Du Bois, and her mother, Yolande, along with W.E.B. Du Bois’ son, Burghardt. The family asked Gwendolyn VanSant, CEO and Founding Director of BRIDGE to direct and curate her return to the Du Bois family’s spiritual home. In 2018, BRIDGE was instrumental in efforts to honor the civil rights leader on the 150th anniversary of his birth and subsequently led the two-year community campaign to rename the local middle school after the iconic intellectual.
On Friday, February 18, W.E.B. Du Bois’ great grandson, Jeff Peck Sr. visits W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School and speak with students. That evening, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and BRIDGE present a staged reading of Charles Smith’s play, “Knock Me a Kiss,” about the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’ daughter Yolande to renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. (Williams Irvin served as adviser for this fictionalized account of an episode drawn from her mother’s life.) Playwright Smith will attend and participate in a post-performance panel discussion along with director Regge Life, UMASS Amherst professor Dr. Whitney Battle Baptiste (Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center), Clark Atlanta University assistant professor Mary Ashong, and artist Delano Burrows (“The Great Barrington Project: Unbleaching the Souls of Black Folk”), moderated by VanSant.
On Saturday, February 19, Bishop Dr. James Dixon II, of Houston’s Community of Faith Church and president-elect of NAACP Houston, where Peck resides, leads the Williams Irvin memorial at Great Barrington’s First Congregational Church. Beginning at 11am, the service includes prayers, scripture, song, with virtual and in-person reflections on her life by dignitaries and educators, including Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds, NAACP National Board Member Michael Curry, state, and town officials. Following the memorial service, the ceremony moves to the Mahaiwe Cemetery for the honoring and unveiling ceremony.
Says VanSant, “I’m humbled and honored to have been asked by Jeff Peck, Sr. to help fulfill Dr. Williams Irvin’s request to return to her family’s spiritual home and to organize this celebration of her life and achievements, which go far beyond her academic career on the faculty of the psychology department at Xavier University and her advocacy for women’s health. While it’s fitting that we commemorate her and her grandfather, W.E.B. Du Bois in his hometown of Great Barrington during Black History Month, their lives and legacy demonstrate that Black History is our shared American history, and should be recognized, taught, and celebrated throughout the year.”
On Sunday, February 20, as part of the Town of Great Barrington W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival, world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow presents a West African dance workshop, open to the public with dancer, storyteller, and drummer Iddrisu Saaka in a participatory exploration of traditional dance and modern culture in Ghana, W.E.B. Du Bois’ final resting place. The workshop runs from 2–3:30pm at Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield and is part of Love Pittsfield’s 10×10 Upstreet Arts Festival in partnership with the NAACP Berkshire County Branch.
Commemorative activities continue with the 5th Annual W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Festival, an array of town-sponsored events and others hosted by community partners to be broadcast each evening online. From February 21–23, the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center hosts musical performances, talks, and panel discussions themed, “The Sacred Journeying of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois: Native Son and Global Intellectual.”
This year’s virtual Festival remarks include a keynote delivered by Dr. George T. French, Jr., President of Clark Atlanta University, where Du Bois taught and developed his groundbreaking work in sociology. Distinguished community leaders will also speak, including Dr. Kendra Fields of the Clinton Church Restoration, and Dennis Powell of NAACP Berkshires among others.
It culminates with the observance of W.E.B. Du Bois Day, on February 23—Du Bois’s birthday—an official town holiday, which includes the presentation of the annual Du Bois Legacy Award and a panel discussion featuring HBCU scholars such as Dr. Barbara H. Combs (Clark Atlanta University), Dr. Melvin Rahming (Morehouse College), and Dr. Alix Pierre (Spelman College), moderated by Dr. Emily Williams (BRIDGE and Du Bois Legacy Committee). Du Bois descendants will participate throughout the Festival, along with artists, musicians, local youth, and other scholars, paying tribute to Du Bois and exploring local history and his far-reaching impact on society.
Memorial partners and sponsors to date include BRIDGE supporters, such as Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire Roots, Josie and Glen Greene, Elizabeth Adams, Joan Hunt, Janet Elsbach, Dr. Lara Setti, NAACP-Berkshire County Branch, Lily Swartz and Tim Likarish, Dr. John Horan, Carey McIntosh, Austen Riggs Center, Dr. Mary Nell Morgan, Tommie Hutto Blake, the Nguyen Family, Clinton Church Restoration, Shakespeare & Company, Your Color Connection, Town of Great Barrington, Smoky Divas, Finnerty & Stevens, The Lazu Group, Outpost Productions, local BerkShares vendors, BerkShares, the BRIDGE Board and several donors along with co-hosts First Congregational Church of Great Barrington and Community of Faith Church Ministry Team-Houston.
For complete details of these events,
For more information on Knock Me a Kiss, www.shakespeare.org
For more information on the West African Dance Workshop, www.jacobspillow.org
For details of the Town of Great Barrington’s W.E.B. Du Bois Day, www.mahaiwe.org
Note to Editors: Archival photographs of members of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr. Yolande “Du Bois” Williams Irvin, and other members of the Du Bois family are available upon request.
Founded in 2007, BRIDGE is a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization acts as a catalyst for change through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship and advocacy with race and gender equity and justice focus. BRIDGE is a minority- and women-run non-profit certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SDP). Certified competencies include training, education, language access, and multicultural awareness. For more information about BRIDGE, please visit https://www.multiculturalbridge.org/
BRIDGE Contact: Gwendolyn VanSant
CEO and Founding Director, BRIDGE
Media Contact: Truc Nguyen