W E B Du Bois: The Great Barrington Editions 2022
Berkshire Publishing Group was founded in Great Barrington, the small western Massachusetts town where Du Bois was born and educated. He wrote eloquently about the town and its people, and he is remembered today as the most influential graduate of the town’s schools. In 2022, we are proud to announce these new editions of two books that open with stories from his childhood in Great Barrington.
“Du Bois is the brook of fire through which we all must pass in order to gain access to the intellectual and political weaponry needed to sustain the radical democratic tradition in our time.” —The African American Century, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West
W E B Du Bois in Great Barrington
Berkshire Publishing Group was founded in Great Barrington, the small western Massachusetts town where Du Bois was born and educated. He wrote eloquently about the town and its people, and he is remembered today as the most influential graduate of the town’s schools.
Because he became a Communist, his legacy has been a source of conflict in the town, but after many years of debate there is now a W. E. B. Du Bois Middle School. There are signs on roads leading into the town saying, “Birthplace of W. E. B. Du Bois.” And in 2022, over 150 years after Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, his granddaughter was laid to rest in the Mahaiwe Cemetery after a memorial service attended by state and local leaders.
The Great Barrington Editions
The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois opens with these words:
I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation which began the freeing of American Negro Slaves.
The Souls of Black Folk opens in Great Barrington, with a story of Du Bois’s first experience of what he called “the veil” between the races that took place in a wooden schoolhouse that stood across Main Street from Great Barrington Town Hall.
Du Bois wrote eloquently about his childhood in Great Barrington:
From early years, I attended the town meeting every Spring and in the upper room in that little red brick Town Hall, fronted by a Roman “victory” commemorating the Civil War, I listened to the citizens discuss things about which I knew and had opinions: streets and bridges and schools, and particularly the high school, an institution comparatively new. We had in the town several picturesque hermits, usually retrograde Americans of old families. There was Crosby, the gunsmith, who lived in a lovely dale with brook, waterfall and water wheel. He was a frightful apparition but we boys often ventured to visit him. Particularly there was Beartown Beebe, who came from forest fastnesses which I never penetrated. He was a particularly dirty, ragged, fat old man, who used to come down regularly from his rocks and woods and denounce high school education and expense.
I was 13 or 14 years of age and a student in the small high school with two teachers and perhaps 25 pupils. The high school was not too popular in this rural part of New England and received from the town a much too small appropriation. But the thing that exasperated me was that every Spring at Town Meeting, which I religiously attended, this huge, ragged old man came down from the hills and for an hour or more reviled the high school and demanded its discontinuance.
I remember distinctly how furious I used to get at the stolid town folk, who sat and listened to him. He was nothing and nobody. Yet the town heard him gravely because he was a citizen and property-holder on a small scale and when he was through, they calmly voted the usual funds for the high school. Gradually as I grew up, I began to see that this was the essence of democracy: listening to the other man’s opinion and then voting your own, honestly and intelligently.
Du Bois’s granddaughter was buried in the Mahaiwe Cemetery in 2022, and the small Black church that “Willie” Du Bois attended and wrote about as a teenager is being developed as an educational and cultural center.
Berkshire Publishing is delighted to make his most accessible and relevant books available in new editions, including his Autobiography rearranged, for the first time, in accordance with Du Bois’s instructions and also available for the first time as an ebook. The “Great Barrington Editions” will include The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, the landmark text of the civil rights movement, and Du Bois’s first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece, a grand, sweeping African American saga: Gone with the Wind meets The Scarlet Letter. We have added illustrations, but avoided the excessive appendices and scholarly additions that crowd many reprinted classics. Our editions have a clean, open layout designed to be read, dipped into, and enjoyed.
The film below comes from a Chinese documentary about the welcome given to W. E. B. Du Bois and his wife Shirley Graham when they visited Beijing in 1959, after the US government restored his passport and he was again allowed to travel. These clips show Du Bois speaking at a 91st birthday celebration at Peking University; driving through Shanghai; meeting with Song Qingling, Anna Louise Strong, and Chairman Mao Zedong.The trip was sponsored by the China Peace Committee and the Chinese People’s Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.
From the “Publisher’s Note” in the Great Barrington edition
I first thought of publishing a new edition of Du Bois’s autobiography during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, as BLM signs went up around Great Barrington and a crowd of thousands gathered around the town hall he’d known as a boy.
I had been hearing Du Bois’s story for years, at events and over the dinner table, and even published a volume based on his teenage writings about a little church in Great Barrington. I’ve talked about him with many people, including Thomas Bender, a leading scholar of transnational history at New York University, who pointed out that Du Bois’s Harvard dissertation on the Atlantic slave trade was one of the first works of transnational history.
I was familiar with this much-quoted line, “I was born by a golden river in the shadow of two great hills,” and thought of it often because my study window looks across the Housatonic Valley to those two hills.
But when I picked up a copy of the 1968 US edition, I was startled to find that that line, so obviously the opening of an autobiography, did not appear until Chapter 6. Instead, the book opened with a series of chapters about Du Bois’s travels and communist beliefs at the end of his life. How strange, I thought.
I knew Du Bois had been a prolific writer and that he had been active in the world, occupied with political activities, editing, and organizing. Many of his books, including his groundbreaking 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, were put together in haste, compiled from pieces of journalism. Could this book, too, have been assembled hastily?
Over the years, we’ve covered local issues related to Du Bois, and Karen Christensen actually interviewed the man who was said t to be leading the anonymous campaign against the “birthplace of” signs: “He tried to brush me off, but I ended up talking to him for an hour. Here are a few quotes from my notes about the conversation: Du Bois was ‘a bright young man’ who got a ‘free education,’ ‘provided by donations.’ He might have come back to ‘see the fall foliage, but he didn’t do a damned thing for Great Barrington’ and ‘was a socialist for many years.’” But the controversy over Du Bois’s legacy began not long after his death in 1963. Historian Amy Bass wrote a book about it, Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. Du Bois,” which covers the early battle as well as the later one over the signs and the naming of the newly built middle school.
Du Bois under fire
It’s about time that I report on the conflict over whether or not to commemorate the most famous citizen in this small town’s history, the
Du Bois’s encyclopedia
Yesterday was the annual birthday celebration at the AME Zion Church in Great Barrington. David is finishing his history of the church, and also continuing work on the African-American
“I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation which began the freeing of American Negro Slaves.” That
Black Lives Matter
W E B Du Bois, a great US intellectual & civil rights activist, grew up right here in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I can think of no more appropriate way
Related Berkshire Titles
In 2006, we first published a book about the Black community in Great Barrington. It contains a good deal of Du Bois’s teenage writing. David Levering Lewis, author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning, two-volume biography of Du Bois (in fact, each of the volumes won a Pulitzer), wrote this:
The AME Zion Church turns out not to have been “sometimes attended” but a place of continual and important social reference for him. He filed regular reports to the Globe and Freeman detailing the church’s busy doings – the AME Zion Sewing Society’s monthly supper at the home of Mr. Jason Cooley (April 10); the well-attended quarterly-meeting services, attracting worshipers from Lee and Stockbridge (May 29); . . . and, in the last report for 1883 (December 26), the startling news that that fifteen-year-old Willie [Du Bois] is secretary of the Zion Sewing Society.
And we discovered that the editor of another Berkshire volume, part of the Religion & Society series we created for Routledge, began his introduction by writing about Du Bois:
In what were perhaps his most conciliatory remarks concerning African-American religion, scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois (whose Autobiography is now published by Berkshire) wrote in The Gift of Black Folk (1924) that, “Above and beyond all that we have mentioned, perhaps least tangible, but just as true, is the peculiar spiritual quality which the Negro has injected into American life and civilization. It is hard to define and characterize it – a certain spiritual joyousness, a sensuous, tropical love of life, in vivid contrast to the cool and cautious New England reason; a slow and dreamful conception of the universe, a drawling and slurring of speech, an intense sensitiveness to spiritual values – all of these things and others like to them, tell of the imprint of Africa on Europe in America. There is no gainsaying or explaining away this tremendous influence of the contact of the north and south, of black and white, of Anglo-Saxon and Negro.”
As might be expected over such a long and varied career, Du Bois changed his mind about religion many times. He was especially ambivalent about the role of religion in promoting social change, and by the middle of the twentieth century saw religion as an overwhelmingly conservative force. But he was always willing to reconsider his position. His biographer David Levering Lewis (1995) notes that in 1955 Du Bois – at that time thoroughly agnostic and anticlerical – said of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts that he had “expected to live to see many things, but never a militant Baptist preacher.”
We also publish, in a new edition, Invisible Poets by Joan R. Sherman, “who pioneered in the rediscovery of nineteenth-century Afro-American literature,” writes Henry Louis Gates, Jr., director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard, “Her work of literary resurrection is a signal achievement, combining deft historical detective work with a subtle critical sensibility.” Sherman sought “to strip myth and misinformation from their lives and to offer the most accurate biographies and bibliographies obtainable after a century of neglect.” Sherman studies twenty-six representative poets of the nineteenth century. Their work, which ranges from “militant, race-proud jeremiads to sentimental nature and love lyrics,” faithfully conforms to nineteenth-century poetic standards. At the same time, it reflects the changing American political and cultural scene and provides an invaluable record of over a hundred years of Black experience as articulated by sensitive and talented American writers.