GREAT BARRINGTON -- Arthur Edward McFarlane II is visiting the ghosts of his past to bring spirit to the legacy of his great-grandfather, W.E.B. Du Bois, and his family.
In his autobiography, Du Bois counseled his then 2-year-old great-grandson. "Never hesitate, never falter."
Today, McFarlane makes his first visit to Great Barrington, where William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born 145 years ago, on Feb. 23, 1868. The town's Mahaiwe Cemetery is also where some of McFarlane's relatives, including his grandmother, Yolande, are buried.
McFarlane, a program director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has made the cross-country pilgrimage to Western Massachusetts to both share and listen to stories about Du Bois, a man who is considered as much a revolutionary African-American and civil rights leader as he is a controversial activist.
The Harlem native is here to honor the life and times of the man he calls "grandpa" and with whom he shares a middle name.
On Tuesday, McFarlane delivered the 19th annual Du Bois Lecture, "The Life of W.E.B. Du Bois: Its Relevance to Today," at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where there's a library named for Du Bois.
The timing of McFarlane's visits coincide with the 50th anniversary year of his great- grandfather's death. Du Bois died on Aug. 27, 1963, in the African nation of Ghana, where he is buried.
McFarlane's visit, orchestrated by the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington, will also launch the yearlong series, "Du Bois at 50: A Hometown Retrospective.
This series of center-sponsored events will not only divulge new research and artifacts relating to Du Bois and his family, but will also explore various aspects of civil rights and social justice within the context of local black history and scholarship.
Local resident and town historian Bernard "Bernie" Drew has written three books on Berkshire black history and has produced a walking-tour guide of 50 Du Bois sites in town. He will be one of the nine presenters at a public lecture that will take place at 6 p.m. today at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington, where Du Bois once worshipped.
"We have lots of stories to share with Mr. McFarlane," said Drew, who has been researching Du Bois and the man's family for the past six years.
Drew said Du Bois' legacy holds relevance today as "a demonstration of coming from unlikely prospects and rising to the top" in the fields of academia, writing, publishing and social justice, which Du Bois, a Harvard University graduate, did. Du Bois would also the co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
"He could have stayed in town and become a clerk or something, but it worked in such a way that the seed of high intellect within him had the chance to bloom," Drew said. "I hope Mr. McFarlane will be able to absorb all this about Great Barrington and appreciate how the town shaped W.E.B. Du Bois."
Scott Christianson will emcee tonight's event. He is the author of the non-fiction work, "Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War."
Christianson moved from upstate New York to Great Barrington last May and has frequented the Du Bois Center for its materials on Du Bois, the Civil War and other sources of black history.
"One of the aspects of history that interests me is that it involves things and people who are not really recognized or understood for many years to come," Christianson said. "I think it's meaningful that both the community and a descendant are coming together 50 years after death of Du Bois to re-examine and celebrate some achievements of this towering figure in history."
Du Bois Center Director Randy Weinstein is calling this a landmark occasion as Du Bois is recognized for his achievements in the presence of family, community members, Great Barrington officials, and state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. The Lenox Democrat is expected to present a proclamation from the Statehouse.
"It's been a long time in the making," Weinstein said.
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