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Building an Historical Landscape, Commemorating W. E. B. Du Bois

  • Robert PaynterEmail author
Article

Abstract

The history of the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite in Great Barrington Massachusetts is traced from the present to its earliest inhabitation after the arrival of Europeans and African captives. Social processes of class and race operating at different time scales have constrained the ways the members of Du Bois’s maternal relatives, and more recently private foundations and the public institution of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have made use of the property. The Homesite figures in Du Bois’s memories of his childhood and was a source of pride during his 26 years of ownership. Telling its story backwards provides insights into how larger social and ideological forces affected individual actions, observations that provide guidance for future commemoration efforts at this National Historic Landmark site honoring the accomplishments of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Keywords

African American history New England Heritage 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The 1772 Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Office of the President of the University of Massachusetts, the Offices of the Chancellor, the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, the Provost, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, the Physical Plant Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Historic Deerfield, Inc. have provided funding that has led to archaeological research and heritage work at the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite for which I am most grateful. Fortunately for me, LouAnn Wurst and Stephen Mrozowski invited me to be part of this project. Steve, Bernard Drew, and Rachel Fletcher supplied written commentary that significantly helped this paper along. Another fortunate outcome of this experiment in writing is that people who usually get a cursory thanks in the Acknowledgements have been more fully recognized in the text of the paper. And even so, all these contributors and collaborators have done more than the text has captured. My thanks to them all.

Those needing a clearer acknowledgement include the staff of the Buildings and Grounds Physical Plant Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, especially Assistant Director Pamela Monn and Jack Rogala. They have taken attentive care of the Homesite and solved the practical problems (and some bureaucratic ones) associated with its development. New and wonderful information from The Du Bois papers emerges because of their expert curation, beginning with Linda Seidman, and now by Curator of Collections Danielle Kovacs and Head of Special Collections and University Archives Rob Cox. The field school students, through their work at the site and in the lab, made all the interpretation possible; they are recognized en masse here, and I recognize them by name in the report where a more lengthy listing is possible. Special recognition is due to Rita Reinke, Rick Gumaer, Kerry Lynch, Elizabeth Norris, Quentin Lewis, Honora Sullivan-Chin, Chris Douyard, Anthony Martin, and Elena Sesma, who helped direct the educational and research work of the field schools. Evelyn Jeffers has provided unflagging support and numerous insights from a cultural anthropologist’s perspective about the Du Bois Homesite project. Ed Bell of the Massachusetts Historical Commission has been a source of encouragement for this site that lies so close to his Alma Mater. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, David Glassberg, Bill Strickland, Rachel Fletcher, Bernie Drew, and Dolores Root have been constant sources of support and insight. Finally much is owed to David Graham Du Bois, who kept his father’s legacy alive and inspired work in Great Barrington, the Reverend Esther Dozier who preached to all from one of Du Bois’s places of worship and helped us see what the real work was, and Chancellor Randolph Bromery who had the foresight to obtain Du Bois’s papers for the University of Massachusetts and thereby initiate its stewardship of the Du Bois legacy. They have all passed, Chancellor Bromery quite recently, but will continue to be precedents for all that follows. Mr. Theodore Hitchcock, the owner of the house inside the U of the Homesite, was one of the people who opposed the 1969 dedication ceremony. We had cordial relations in the 1980s, which over the years developed into ones of friendly mutual regard. I am saddened by his recent death and will miss our neighbor.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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