GREAT BARRINGTON — MiRi Park, the Broadway dancer, scholar, mother, teacher and doctorate student, wasn't going to have time to read a copy of "Black Reconstruction in America," a 750-page book by W.E.B. Du Bois that was assigned by a professor last fall.
But, with an hourlong daily commute to her job in Los Angeles, Park, 42, listened in the car to an audio version of the book, which tackles the issues of labor and the African-American experience from just prior to the Civil War through 1880.
"My mind was blown," she said. "It could have been written last month."
Then came June.
Amid unrest across the U.S. after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, anti-racism books were flying off shelves. But, Park felt that Du Bois' book wasn't overlooked, perhaps more quietly read by those who wanted to tackle the very foundation of America's equality problems.
From Du Bois' 1935 scholarship documenting the "shenanigans" of the U.S. government during Reconstruction, Park said, "we can draw a straight line" to today's economic and racial inequalities.
"It's actually built into the system, and he outlines how it all went down," she added.
She couldn't let go of her idea to read it out loud in some sort of public forum. So, Park, a Ph.D. candidate in World Arts and Culture/Dance at UCLA — she also is known for her work in "Rent" — called some of her Black Broadway colleagues, as well as film actors, and asked if they would join her in a video event to take turns reading it.
The 10-week ReadIn Series will run in installments, beginning at 3 p.m. Fridays through Sept. 25. On Sept. 22, the series shifts to twice weekly — Tuesdays and Fridays — through Nov. 3.
Readers include Phylicia Rashad, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jesse L. Martin, and cast members from Broadway and touring companies including "Hamilton," "Rent" and "The Book of Mormon."
Judith Monachina, director of the Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College, has created a podcast in which she interviews Park about the series. It's edited by local radio journalist Reinout Van Wagtendonk.
The Oral History center is part of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, which is a sponsor of the series.
"It's an exquisite book of receipts," Park said of Du Bois' draw from testimony and histories of the time in "Black Reconstruction."
Du Bois, a Great Barrington native, was an early civil rights giant, scholar and historian who challenges the notion that Reconstruction failed because of Blacks and provides a deep look at labor — even before the war.
Park, who has studied the break dance and hip-hop community culture of which she was a part in New York City, was shocked at how long it took for her to discover Du Bois.
"The fact that I was learning this in grad school was horrible," she said, noting that, as an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, she "didn't even understand the significance of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library."
This is what Park wants to fix. And she hopes the ReadIn Series will help bring the book out of hiding so there no longer is an American history knowledge gap.
Housatonic Heritage long has been a conduit for money funneled into numerous local African-American historical sites, including Du Bois' boyhood site, and his birthplace.
The group, a partner of the National Park Service, is hoping its federal funding agency will push the ReadIn Series on its social media since "Black Reconstruction" transcends time, said Executive Director Dan Bolognani.
Camesha Scruggs, a Du Bois Center Fellow at UMass-Amherst and tour guide at the college-run boyhood homesite, is interviewed in the podcast introduction. She says Du Bois' ideas, particularly in "Black Reconstruction," still are timely.
"If Du Bois were to come back, it would be like, `Didn't we just have this discussion?' "
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.