WGBY Connecting Point
The town of Great Barrington is hosting the W.E.B. DuBois Legacy Festival this month to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader. Recently, some residents in town have proposed re-naming the Monument Valley Regional Middle School after Dubois. But the proposal has seen some backlash in the community. Multicultural Bridge CEO Gwendolyn VanSant sat down with Carolee McGrath to share why she supports the name change.
The Berkshire Eagle
As Great Barrington celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of W.E.B. Du Bois, it is apparent that a town that was slow to embrace the remarkable legacy of its native son has now done so. That process would perhaps be complete if Great Barrington and the Berkshire Hills School District undid a wrong from 14 years ago that in retrospect was the last vestige of the town's reluctance to accept its link to Mr. Du Bois and honor that connection.
The Berkshire Eagle
Trailblazers, by definition, forge ahead and alone into the unknown, breaking a path for others to eventually follow. Such is the case with Great Barrington's (now) favorite son, W. E. B. Du Bois, who fought for racial equality and dignity when such a battle earned him the enmity and disdain of the white American power structure. Meanwhile, his leftist political leanings and civil rights activism earned him harassment from Cold War-era law enforcement.
Heather Bellow | The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — It's yet another move to bring a native son's legacy home after a long exile born from a lingering Cold War hysteria.
A citizen's petition filed with Town Hall last month is asking Great Barrington voters to consider whether they would support renaming Monument Valley Regional Middle School to W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School.
The renaming idea to honor the African-American scholar, writer and early civil rights leader is percolating outside the town's official W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee, but will likely find support within it, noted Chairman Randy Weinstein.
Petition to rename regional middle school after scholar, civil rights advocate W.E.B. Du Bois to be on town meeting warrant
Terry Cowgill | The Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington — The effort to rename a local middle school after a controversial scholar and civil rights figure is picking up steam, with a citizen’s petition taken out by a Great Barrington resident whose goal is to do just that.
The petition, filed by town resident Tim Likarish, would put before voters at the annual town meeting Monday, May 6, a resolution to rename Monument Valley Regional Middle School after the legendary scholar and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois, who was born and raised in Great Barrington.
Gwendolyn VanSant, who heads Multicultural BRIDGE, where Likarish volunteers, told The Edge the idea has been brewing in the racial justice program at Multicultural BRIDGE.
VanSant emphasized that the initiative is not related to the official town committee that she co-chairs along with Randy Weinstein, the W. E. B. Du Bois Legacy Committee. Rather, it comes in her capacity as founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, a nonprofit that provides many services around multiculturalism and social justice causes. The legacy committee has planned and executed an elaborate months-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Du Bois’ birth.
“Right now, the middle school is just named after a road,” VanSant said in an interview. “We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years.”
VanSant said she and Likarish are not looking to revive the controversy of 15 years ago when an effort to name the new regional elementary school divided the community and took on a life of its own.
“We’re not trying to create a big rupture,” VanSant said. “There has been a lot of healing since then.”
Barbara Crochiere Roberts of Pittsfield | Berkshire Eagle
To the editor:
Reading Bernard Drew's column on the Jan. 27 opinion page spurred me to write this letter. Ever since Great Barrington started to build the new elementary school, I had hoped the town would choose to honor its (probably) most famous native son by naming the school after him. But no, it was given the inglorious name it bears today: Muddy Brook.
It is time to rectify this disregard for the widely honored son of Great Barrington by renaming the school to reflect the pride the community should have had in the son it raised; W.E.B. Du Bois.
By JOSH LANDES • NOV 27, 2018
A coalition of groups that promote multiculturalism in the Berkshires recently proposed a “welcoming” resolution to skeptical leaders in Lee, Massachusetts.
On Tuesday, November 20th, Lee residents stood with representatives of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing and Multicultural BRIDGE – which stands for Berkshire Resources For Integration Of Diverse Groups Through Education – to hear the town selectboard consider a so-called “Welcoming Resolution.”
“We already do this in the town of Lee," said board member Patricia Carlino. "We feel we’re a welcoming town, and we don’t have any issues with anyone.”
Carlino was responding to the resolution’s text, which calls on the town of about 6,000 to acknowledge and celebrate its diversity and “the need to provide a safe community for all residents.”
It commits Lee to “ensure the civil liberties of all persons and enforce protection from discrimination regardless of their demographic characteristics.” The resolution lists factors like race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, immigration status, religious beliefs and activities, age, and health and economic status.
By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle
GREAT BARRINGTON — He was hailed as an anchor of intellect and free thought amid a sea of racial upheaval and red-baiting.
The U.S. government didn't like him when he was alive. And neither did town officials of yesteryear, after he had died.
But now W.E.B. Du Bois, Great Barrington-born and raised, has his very own committee at Town Hall.
"We've really traveled quite some distance," said Randy Weinstein, executive director of The Du Bois Center at Great Barrington. "It's a milestone in this community."
The W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee, which Weinstein co-chairs, embarks on its first public meeting Wednesday evening, to organize before it begins work to its stated mission to "preserve and promote" the town native's legacy "as a scholar and activist for freedom, civil rights progressive education, economic justice and racial equality."
It's likely the first of its kind to honor Du Bois anywhere in the U.S., Weinstein said.
The committee's 12 members want to continue efforts, as part of a new town culture, that began last year on the cusp of the Du Bois 150th Festival celebration, in which UMass Amherst Libraries gave the town a print of Du Bois' birth certificate and a portrait that now hang in the Town Hall meeting room. Du Bois banners went up on downtown streetlights, and the festival stretched for several months with lectures, events and displays of Du Bois artifacts.
Born five years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Du Bois had attended Searles High School, and was the first African-American to attend Harvard University, with financial help from residents of the town. He wrote the first scholarly book about the black experience in America, and went on to prolific writing, then co-founded the NAACP.
His lectures about race and other topics placed him on the government's watchlist. Later he was investigated by the FBI. And his intellectual entanglements during the Cold War, and a conversion to communism in the years before his death, angered local residents, especially veterans groups.
This is when officials and residents fought attempts to honor Du Bois. The Du Bois Boyhood Homesite was eventually established as National Historic Landmark, but not without dividing the county. And even recently, a few voices, though growing ever dim, have revealed some ire toward the those who want to celebrate him.
But now the deal is done.
"We got a lot of applications," said Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant, committee co-chair. "It's a diverse committee ... leading small town government at a really tricky time."
Community activists are working to pass local ordinances in the sanctuary city model in communities in the Berkshires.
A collection of different Berkshire grassroots organizations have come together with a very specific mission: get individual communities in the county to pass their own versions of a trust policy.
“A trust policy is a local ordinance to promote trust, safety, and inclusion for all people in a community by passing a local ordinance called a trust act or a trust policy to ensure that local police equally and equitably respect the rights of all members of the community, and specifically don’t work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target and deport undocumented immigrants outside of criminal cases," said Jeff Lowenstein. He's a community organizer for Berkshire Interfaith Organizing — or BIO — and a Berkshire native. “And I’m one of BIO’s representatives to the Trust Policy Partnership, which is a group that formed as part of the campaign to pass the Great Barrington trust policy last year, to working to pass these kinds of policies in cities and towns throughout Berkshire County.”
Lowenstein says the movement emerged from the 2016 election and the subsequent Trump administration crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the United States.
By Jenn Smith , The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Despite the morning's cold gray weather, the downtown Pittsfield court complex had a celebratory feel to it Monday, as the Massachusetts Trial Court system kicked off its inaugural Cultural Appreciation Week.
Food tents were erected outside the Berkshire Superior Courthouse facing Park Square, filling the air with the scents of Caribbean, Italian and Greek spices. Inside the building, songs, dances and speeches were performed by local children and community members as court staff, state officials and other visitors intently listened. After a tour with staff in the Berkshire Probate and Family Court building, students and staff had lunch together, sampling everything from slow-cooked Puerto Rican-style chicken and rice, to Greek spanakopita, a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese.
While the special event allowed people to sample the various flavors of cultural cuisine offered by Pittsfield restaurants, it also gave participants a taste of why it's important to have awareness of and celebrate cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and gender diversity of the courts and their local citizens.
Reid Middle School eighth-graders Wesley Ahoussi, Steve Patch and Rahmel Smith — all members of the school's Justice League for diversity and inclusion — said they felt events like this were important. Asked why, they answered "respect," "equality" and "empathy," respectively.
They and their classmates, Tatyaina Curtis-Perez and Gracie Friend, said the day also helped them gain a better view and understanding of the court system and how it works.
"Things like this help you learn a lot of new things," Friend said.
"It kind of gives us an experience about criminal justice and what injustice is," Curtis-Perez said.