Author champions Du Bois' life, legacy
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Au-thor Amy Bass recalled that it wasn't until she was in her second year of graduate school that she realized that famed civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois was actually born about 16 miles south of her Richmond home.
"To me, that was kind of amazing," she said. "I knew a lot about the Berkshires, but I didn't know that."
Bass, a Richmond native and graduate of Taconic High School, is currently an associate professor of history at the College of New Rochelle in New York. She has just completed her latest book, "Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle Over W.E.B. Du Bois."
The book is an examination of the life of Great Barrington's most famous native son. Du Bois was a noted 20th century activist and writer who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and advocated the cause of civil rights.
In addition to discussing Du Bois' life and accomplishments, however, Bass also shed light on the political and logistical struggle by local and regional historians and Du Bois supporters to establish a fitting memorial to Du Bois, who died in Ghana in 1963 at the age of 95.
The book quotes, among many sources, several reports from local publications, including The Berkshire Eagle.
The town has erected signs at the entrance to portions of the town declaring Great Barrington to be Du Bois' birthplace. In addition, a nonprofit group, the Friends of W.E.B. Du Bois, have been working with the University of Massachusetts to restore Du Bois' boyhood home on Route 23.
The idea for the book began in 2001, said Bass. For a variety of reasons, it wasn't published until this year, by the University of Minnesota Press.
Bass's book posits that while many of his local critics pointed to his conversion to communism late in his life as a reason for denying Du Bois a proper memorial, the underlying reason points more emphatically to racism.
"I think the book questions who has the final say on what it means to be an American," said Bass.
"People point to [Du Bois'] conversion to communism as a factor, but think about it: Who is your 100 percent ‘good guy' in American history? Nobody is perfect. Everyone has some kind of skeleton in their closet.
"Look at Thomas Jefferson," she continued. "I don't see anyone calling for the Jefferson Memorial to come down because of his relationship with Sally Hemmings."
Bass is referring to the children Jefferson fathered with a slave, Sally Hemmings, confirmed by DNA testing in 2003.
Her book, said Bass, "really questions the language of patriotism and what we say when we don't speak. And what's unsaid is that he's black."
Bass said the story of Du Bois is still being written.
"And that's the way it should be," she said. "He [Du Bois] was here for a long time, and Great Barrington was very important to him."
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