Our vision is to build a national and international destination in Great Barrington, Massachusetts that will engage the public in W.E.B. Du Bois’s life, global significance, and relevance to important issues of our time.
The vision for a memorial to honor Du Bois was conceived in 1967 when Professor Edmund W. Gordon and Walter Wilson, a local realtor, purchased the Du Bois Homesite property. This five-acre parcel in Great Barrington includes the original homestead of Du Bois’s maternal family, and was designated a National Historic landmark in 1979.
In 2009 a diverse group of scholars, community people, and museum professionals came together to re-envision a destination honoring Du Bois in the twenty-first century. The W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite and Great Barrington: A Plan for Heritage Conservation and Interpretation identifies three venues that offer the public the opportunity to learn about and pay their respects to Du Bois, and actively engage with the questions and issues to which Du Bois devoted his life and which continue to be relevant today.
Download full document [pdf, 33.5 MB ]
Each venue offers a unique opportunity for experiencing Du Bois’s life and legacy, and together they make up the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site:
- W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite
- W.E.B. Du Bois Downtown Great Barrington Walking Tour
- W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy
In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the Homesite—a sacred place—holds a deep history of Du Bois’s ancestry going back to the early 1800s and is a place of contemplation and commemoration. The existing woodland interpretive trail will be expanded to illuminate more about Du Bois’s journey from this small rural farming community to world prominence.
A “living memorial” with ongoing archaeological investigations, the site has yielded discoveries about the daily life of Du Bois’s ancestors. Future digital technology will provide further opportunities for enriching the archaeological interpretation. Future plans for the Homesite include an outdoor amphitheater and gathering space, which will accommodate up to 50 people.
In addition, we plan to expand the parking area and build an interpretive shelter that includes bathroom facilities.
Great Barrington Walking Tour
A piece of our vision is to place Du Bois prominently in the downtown Great Barrington landscape through signage at places significant to Du Bois as a youth and in later life. While many of the building sites no longer exist, there is sufficient historical information to tell a unique story at each site.
Currently, W.E.B. Du Bois in Great Barrington is a self-guided walking and motor tour, and we plan to enhance it with signage marking each location as well as adding an audio guide.
The W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy (“The Du Bois Freedom Center”)
The mission of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy is to educate the public about the life and legacy of civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois and the rich African American heritage of the Berkshires. Located at the former Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, where he was born and raised, this vibrant center of Black thought and remembrance constitutes the first museum and living memorial in North America dedicated to Du Bois’ life and legacy.
When the Du Bois National Historic Site was first envisioned, the Clinton A. M. E. Zion Church in downtown Great Barrington housed an active congregation. The historic church served as a hub of faith, fellowship, and activism for more than a century. While its congregation was never large, the church played an outsized role in the greater community. Its sanctuary overflowed for special events and the downstairs meeting room hosted church suppers, NAACP meetings, and other community gatherings. For the Black community, it was a place of sanctuary and engagement.
The church closed its doors in 2014 and was subsequently deconsecrated and sold to the nonprofit Clinton Church Restoration — now the W.E.B. Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy — a group of local residents and former parishioners committed to save the important National Register site. The building is now being restored for adaptive reuse as the Du Bois Freedom Center.
Once open, this vital new entity will return the historic church to the center of public life. It will be a visitor center, an interpretive venue, a hub for the African American heritage sites in region, a community meeting space, and a cultural gathering spot offering contemporary programs and performances. As it was for many decades, the building will continue to be a “refueling place” that informs, empowers, delights, and serves as a beacon in the community. Key elements include:
- Visitor Center: The visitor center will offer a schedule of guided tours of African American and Du Bois-related historic sites in Great Barrington, trail maps for the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Trail, and a self-guided tour on the town’s mobile app.
- Interpretive Exhibits: Museum-quality interpretive exhibits will incorporate interactive media, an oral history recording booth, and changing displays. While the exhibits will interpret the past, bringing compelling stories from the African American experience to life, they will also resonate with contemporary concerns as they explore stories of community, conviction, and resilience.
- Programs and Events: While physical exhibits are a central component of the experience, programming will be equally important. An active schedule of cultural events in the main hall’s flexible performance space will include concerts, films, talks, performances, and other gatherings that highlight African American voices and creative works. Educational programs will engage scholars, writers, and artists.
- Community Space: An ADA-accessible basement level will house a community fellowship hall with a meeting space and a small kitchen.
The Du Bois Forum
One of Du Bois’ lifelong dreams was to bring together Black leaders and institutionalize support for their individual and collective work. In addition to scouting land for a possible retreat center in the Berkshires and his participation in the renowned Pan African Congresses, Du Bois convened groups of Black scholars and writers at Troutbeck, the Spingarn estate in nearby Amenia, New York.
Drawing upon this century-old foundation, the Du Bois Freedom Center will support the establishment of a retreat center and forum committed to Black intellectual and artistic traditions. Housed in the first Black institution of Du Bois’ life, the Forum will provide an incubator for scholarly and creative projects; a communal space for individual and collaborative ventures; and a meeting and resting place for writers, scholars, and artists. In this way, it will support and shape the future of Black thought, creative production, and social change.
Distinctive among museums and heritage centers, the Du Bois Freedom Center will engage and deepen relationships between the general public and contemporary scholars, writers, and artists of color. The Center’s multifaceted mission emerges out of several foundational partnerships: the University of Massachusetts Amherst, home of the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers and Du Bois Fellows’ Program, and steward of the W. E. B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite (a national historic landmark in Great Barrington); Housatonic Heritage and the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail; a planned Du Bois National Historic Site; Tufts University’s African American Trail Project; and Pulitzer Prize-winning Du Bois biographer Dr. David Levering Lewis.
Learn more about the Center at www.duboisfreedomcenter.org.