Berkshire County doesn't have a large African-American population, but it does have a rich African-American history, one that will be celebrated again this summer with the second annual Lift Ev'ry Voice Festival. Larger than last year's event and linked with many of the Berkshires' notable cultural institutions, the festival is becoming firmly rooted as part of the Berkshire cultural scene.
The itinerary for the festival, which kicks off on June 19, was announced Tuesday at Gallery 51 in North Adams. Events will be held at Mass MoCA, Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and in downtown Pittsfield, among other spots from top to bottom in Berkshire County. Berkshire venues have worked together increasingly in recent years and it is satisfying to see so many involved in the Lift Ev'ry Voice Festival.
The festival will celebrate prominent African-American figures in Berkshire history, among them author, historian, educator, civil rights leader and Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Reverend Samuel Harrison, chaplain for the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the Civil War, whose Pittsfield home is now the Harrison House Museum. The African American Heritage Trail through the Upper Housatonic Valley includes the museum, the boyhood home of Mr. Du Bois and the Colonel Ashley House in Sheffield, where Elizabeth "Mum Bett" Freeman was enslaved before winning her freedom in a court case that led ultimately to the end of slavery in Massachusetts. Becket's Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, which will host opening events in the festival next month, was once a site on the Underground Railroad used to transport slaves to better lives.
Dance, music, education and history should prove to be a good mix when the Lift Ev'ry Voice Festival rejoins the county cultural scene next month.