To the editor:
Stockbridge residents will have the opportunity to vote on a motion to rename the middle school in honor of W.E.B. Du Bois in a town meeting on May 20th. The motion has been brought to the three towns that make up The Berkshire Hills Regional School District to help representatives of the school committee, select boards, and school administration gauge support for this initiative within the community. Voters from Great Barrington and West Stockbridge have already approved the measure.
I am writing to support renaming the school in honor of W.E. B. Du Bois because I believe that he represented the very best of our American values and a long tradition of standing up for freedom and equality for all people.
Dr. Du Bois fought hard, in the interest of our country, to uphold the rights that we have come to know as “self-evident” and “inalienable” — rights that remained unattainable for people with brown and black skin throughout his entire lifetime.
Many will have read the letter in the Shoppers Guide opposing this naming. It refers to concerns about some of the positions and affiliations that Dr. Du Bois held. I read it with interest and respect for the concerns it raised.
Its authors were careful to point out that their opposition was not based on race – and I take them at their word – that they would make the same argument against anyone white or black.
Dr. Du Bois was born only three years after slavery was abolished — and he died at the age of 95 — one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.
He dedicated his entire life to fighting for the rights and privileges that mark the best of our American values. His battle was inextricably connected to race.
He was concerned with upholding and protecting those same values — our most cherished ideals — equal treatment under the law, equal access to education including higher education and opportunities for advancement for all Americans.
Through his co-founding of the NAACP and his extraordinary scholarly work he advanced our American ideals. He fought hard for equality for African-Americans granted (but not gained) by the 14th Amendment.
It was here in Berkshire County that Elizabeth Freeman was able to find an attorney to represent her interests against those of a slave-owner. And it was here in South Berkshire, in Great Barrington – this school district — that a young Du Bois’ scholarly gifts and academic achievements were recognized and rewarded.
Naming the middle school for Dr. Du Bois would be a way of celebrating that this community has a history of standing for American values and that we will continue to champion the rights of all people who reside here.
John J. Whalan