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W.E.B. Du Bois about to start public school in Great Barrington.

When Du Bois lived here

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By Monday, Jul 20, 2015 Learning

Great Barrington — He is our favorite son.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) is known worldwide as the founding father of the modern civil rights movement in the United States — a pioneering and indefatigable social scientist, educator, writer, editor and activist whom many historians credit as the greatest intellectual champion of African Americans in the twentieth century.

Many of his progressive ideas and writings about race continue to enlighten and inspire millions of readers. He is celebrated for his cogent classic, The Souls of Black Folk (1903) — in which he proclaimed that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” and revered by scholars for his ambitious and path-breaking studies of social structure — especially his monumental feat of empirical sociology, The Philadelphia Negro (1899) and his great revisionist history, Black Reconstruction (1935). Du Bois also authored several personal accounts of his early years that make his coming-of-age story as remarkable as Abraham Lincoln’s or Horatio Alger’s.

Du Bois stands as a towering figure in American history. His life stretched from the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the rise of Jim Crow to the very eve of the great civil rights march on Washington when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his immortal “I have a dream” speech, calling for the end of racial segregation.

Many of the struggles over race and class that he identified are as relevant now as ever. A product of the local public school, from which he was the first black graduate of the high school, and a fixture of several local institutions, his legacy here has nevertheless triggered debates—such as whether a school should be named for him. Yet he remains the town’s most famous resident.

For my essay about his roots in Great Barrington, click here. The following list describes some of his contemporaries who figured most in his local life, as captured by Bernie Drew and other local historians.

Notable people of Du Bois’s Great Barrington 

Rev. J. Anderson — the black pastor of Clinton AME Zion Church.

Will Beckwith — son of a farmer near the fairgrounds who sometimes employed Willie’s mother; he was one of the few boys in town who went to college.

Baretown Beebee — a dirty, ragged, fat old man who often attended town meetings.

George Beebee — a well-dressed classmate & friend, two or three years older.

Art Benham — a pixie redhead, gifted classmate, son of railroad engineer; he co-edited the school newspaper, Howler, with Willie.

Artemis Bigelow (1800-72) wealthy white resident of Main Street who may have employed Mary’s first common-law husband as coachman.

Mrs. Judith Stoutenberg Bigelow — widow of Artemis.

Ellen Brown (1837-1906) white lover of Uncle Jim Burghardt.

Clark W. Bryan (1824-99) publisher of Berkshire Courier 1879-88, which reported on Willie’s activities.

Adelbert M. Burghardt — Willie’s older half-brother.

James T. “Uncle Jim” Burghardt (1829-1913) – WEB’s widower uncle, a barber, who lodged with the family at Church Street.

Othello “Uncle Tello” Burghardt maternal grandfather, had his house at Egremont Plain.

Sally Burghardt — maternal grandmother.

Dr. Jonathan Cass (1825-1886) former Army surgeon, landlord on Church Street for 4 yrs.

Charles Church — well-to-do playmate who attended private school, was friendlier to Willie than his brother; lived on South Street.

George Church (1826-1903) bank officer, father of Charles and John.

John Church — well-to-do playmate who attended private school.

Myrtle Clark — classmate.

Mrs. Almira Cooley — Jason’s wife; worked as domestic for Mrs. Bigelow, she and her husband later ran successful restaurant on Hollister Block; hosted Sewing Circles.

Jason Cooley — coachman for Bigelow family, later became a successful black businessman who lived at 32 East St.; belonged to Clinton AME Church, hosted Sewing Circles that Du Bois wrote about .

Minnie E. Crissy — classmate & friend, good student.

George Clinton Crosby ( -1894) mentally unstable ferryman.

Sarah Crosley (1849-1889) black wife of William Crosley, worked for Mrs. Hopkins.

William M. Crosley — black, lived on Kellogg Terrace, coachman for Mrs. Mary Hopkins; Vice president & host of Sons of Freedom literary club meetings, 1884.

Miss Cross — his first primary school teacher.

Warren H. Davis — black entrepreneur, sawmill operator and real estate broker, served as go-between for Du Bois’ acquisition of the Egremont Plain ancestral home in 1920s

Carlisle Dennis — black steward to Mrs. Mary Hopkins, worked on castle construction, friend of Willie; attended Clinton AME Church.

Justin Dewey (1836-1900) prominent judge, lived at Main and Church Sts., champion of

public schooling Great Barrington; likely the judge who handled the case of the stolen grapes.

Mary Dewey — judge’s eldest daughter who was schoolmate of WEB and very good at math.

Lottie Doolittle — schoolmate, pretty but not serious.

Alfred Du Bois — WEB’s father, Union Army deserter, abandoned Mary and Willie in 1869.

Alfred Du Bois, father of W.E.B. Du Bois, as a Union soldier.

Alfred Du Bois, father of W.E.B. Du Bois, as a Union soldier.

Burghardt Gomer Du Bois (1897-1900) son who is buried here.

Mary Silvina Burghardt Du Bois (1831-March 23, 1885) twice a single mother, worked as

domestic, plagued by poor health and depression.

Nina Gomer Du Bois (1870-1950) wife who came to visit the town and is buried here.

Nina Yolande Du Bois (1900-1961) daughter who is buried here.

Rev. J.F. Floyd — black pastor of AME Church.

Timothy Thomas Fortune (1856-1928) NYC-based editor of New York Globe and

Freeman that published Willie’s dispatches, 1883-1885; America’s most prominent black journalist.

Mary E. Frein — classmate.

Eliza Ann Gardner (1831-1922) cousin, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, lived in


Mike Gibbons — schoolmate, played marbles.

Ned Hollister — playmate who was grocer’s son at the Berkshire Store near Town Hall.

Mrs. Mary Francis Sherwood Hopkins (1819-1891) wealthy widow of Mark Hopkins, she built the castle where Willie worked as a timekeeper.

Frank A. Hosmer (1853-1918) high school principal who was a major influence, lived on Church Street.; edited Berkshire Courier.

Joyner — a thin, swarthy politician; a Democrat whom Du Bois didn’t like.

Ned Kelly — schoolmate, played marbles.

Madame l’Hommedieu (1819-1890)  hired Willie to handle her coal stove at her clothing

store on Main Street.

Mary l’Hommedieu (1841-1905) daughter of Madame and co-proprietor of the clothing Shop.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) refined and celebrated writer who headed NAACP

and bought his own house at Five Acres in Seekonk; close associate of Du Bois.

Manuel F. Mason — business partner of Jason Cooley, black president of the Sons of Freedom

literary club, 1884.

Mike McCarthy — schoolmate who excelled at marbles.

Thomas Jefferson “Old Jeff” McKinley (1784-1896) former slave, landlord of house on Church Street where Willie was born, made a living in various businesses.

Millers — hard-luck white family who shared building on Railroad Street with Du Bois

John Morgan (1846-1943) Welchman who ran news shop-bookstore in post office building, loaned and sold books and periodicals to Willie.

Johnny Morgan — Willie’s boyhood friend, son of the bookstore operator.

Francis Minerva Newport (ca 1822- ) widowed aunt with whom he lived briefly at 41 Main Street after mother’s death; she had raised 6 children.

Agnes O’Neil — schoolmate new to town.

Mary White Ovington (1865-1951)  white social reformer and writer who co-founded NAACP and worked with W.E.B. Du Bois; had a summer home, Riverbank, at Alford, that was loaned to prominent friends; close associate of Du Bois.

Rev. Charles C. C. Painter (1833-1895) Congregational minister and reformer, professor at Fisk University who was instrumental in getting WEB into college.

Charlie Painter — school chum, son of Rev. Painter.

Jim Parker — schoolmate, son of a watchmaker, lived nearby.

George Phelps — schoolmate, tinner’s son.

Pipers — black cousins in Sheffield.

Edith Pixley — schoolmate, pretty but not serious.

Potters — cousins in Pittsfield.

Miss Ida Roraback — teacher.

George Russell (1841-1902) wealthy white mill owner, lived on Castle Street.

Louis Russell — developmentally disabled white son of wealthy mill owner, lived at fine home at West Avenue, attended Sedgwick Institute, friend of WEB.

Mrs. Celeste S. Gilbert Russell — wife of Parley Russell, employed Mary as housekeeper at Brightside on West Avenue.

Parley A. Russell (1838-1916) wealthy white mill owner of the Berkshire Woolen Mill, who paid for Willie’s School books; employed Mary as housekeeper, lived at Brightside on West Avenue.

Clarence Sabin — serious and studious schoolmate.

Ralph Sabin — “devilish” schoolmate.

Frederick W. Sanford — classmate who used to go hunting; later became local judge.

Rev. Evarts Scudder — pastor of Congregational Church, a key supporter of Mary & Willie Smith — he did chores for the two spinsters on South Main St. in 1883.

Increase Sumner (1801-1871 Mary and Willie briefly lived in his carriage house.

Charles J. Taylor (1824-1904) white neighbor, local historian who impressed Willie; Willie tended his cows.

Sabra Taylor — classmate & friend, sober and good student.

Boardman Tobey — schoolmate, son of a jeweler; wore expensive shoes.

Edward Van Lennep — another pastor at Congregational Church, he ran Sunday school after Justin Dewey.

Frank Wright — read law in Judge Dewey’s office, put on a play with Hosmer in which Du Bois performed at Town Hall.

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