Clinton AME Zion Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is being renovated to become a cultural hub on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Community members last week celebrated W.E.B. Du Bois' legacy on the 59-year anniversary of his passing.
The Saturday, Aug. 27, event, "W.E.B Du Bois: I've Known Rivers," included readings, music, and history at the River Park named after the late sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington in 1868. He would go on to attend the University of Berlin, become the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, helped found the NAACP and become a leading proponent of the Pan-African movement. Among his many works, his best known may be "The Souls of Black Folk," a collection of essays, and "Black Reconstruction in America."
"Today is really a remarkable collaboration of so many groups and individuals that really care about W.E.B DuBois and the principles that he fought for," the Housatonic River Walk's founding Director Rachel Fletcher said.
Fletcher pointed to Du Bois' writings about being "born by a golden river" and said the event could not have been held closer to the spot he referenced.
The park was dedicated in 2002 to honor Du Bois' love of the Housatonic and his environmental activism, which were only two of the many things he championed. It is on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail.
"Today is Aug. 27. In 1963, that was the eve of the great March on Washington for jobs and freedom. It was also the day of Du Bois' passing in Accra, Ghana," Fletcher said.
A hallmark of the event was the release of waters from Accra that Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell collected during his 2019 trip for the "Year of Return," which marked 400 years of the arrival of the first documented enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Va., and 400 years of African resilience.
Powell brought water from the Housatonic to Accra — where Dubois was buried — three years ago and brought water back to release in the river near his birth site, completing the circle of life.
He explained that he has been safeguarding the vials of water from the Pra River, also known as the "Slave River" or the "Last Bath River."
"It is a beautiful spot and it is the confluence that is complicit with crimes against humanity," Powell said.
"The location is known as the Slave River, the Last Bath River, the last path enslaved Africans took on the continent before being sold to the Caribbean, the Americas, and a life of chattel slavery."
He described the treacherous journey that enslaved people endured or succumbed to. Survivors had a brief respite from their inhumane journey and a chance to be in their land of birth one last time, Powell said.
"As I hold the vials I still think about standing down and those cold running waters as it ran through my (feet) and the energy that came from that river wasn't just water in that river," he added. "That river was full of life. Full of spirit."
As he stood there in the water and visited the caves where people were held, he said, "what this tells me is that my ancestors made this journey and now I am back home."
The event included a collaborative reading of Du Bois' speech "The Housatonic River" delivered more than 90 years ago in Stockbridge and which was the blueprint for much of the River Walk.
The event ended with a ceremony at the historic Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which is the site of a revitalization effort that aims to bring light to Great Barrington's African American history and highlight Du Bois' place of birth and boyhood.
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