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.