Du Bois honors increasing in Great Barrington, bucking past controversies

This draft of the Triplex mural in Great Barrington features a large portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois.

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.

Mr. Du Bois, who visited the Soviet Union in his pursuit of government systems that treated African-Americans more fairly than did the U.S., both praised and criticized Communism. For decades, Great Barrington chose to bury Mr. Du Bois' memory due to the prevailing mood of the time. Today, the fanatics who ruined the lives of so many Americans with socialist sympathies are seen as the true villains. And it was the writer, teacher and historian's advocacy of the African-American cause that truly defined him anyway, not any flirtations with the Soviets. Over time, Mr. Du Bois' fight for equality for all became accepted by the general American public that trailed behind him.

As recently as 2004 the School Committee of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, which includes Great Barrington, caved to dated prejudices and ducked a chance to name a new elementary school after Mr. Du Bois. This, despite tireless advocacy by those seeking to rehabilitate his memory.

The efforts of those advocates have not flagged, and once again, the BHRSD can right a historic wrong by renaming Monument Valley Regional Middle School for this great American who so deeply loved his home town and valued the education he received there.

Du Bois supporters have petitioned to add the renaming issue to Great Barrington's town meeting agenda, and hope to do the same in Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, the other towns comprising the school district. We urge all three to accept and embrace Mr. Du Bois' legacy to South County and encourage the School Committee to do the same. The time has come to officially honor him by giving his name to an educational facility in the town to which, by his own admission, he owed so much.