GREAT BARRINGTON — The city’s Mason Library will soon be the custodian of artifacts related to civil rights architect WEB Du Bois, including his original letters, after the city accepted the donation of a massive collection of materials belonging to Du Bois and related.
The Select Board said on Monday it would accept the collection from the not-for-profit Du Bois Center Great Barrington on South Main Street, and approved the creation of a WEB Du Bois Center within the library – which will dedicate the room to local history at Du Bois-related materials, as well as an extensive collection of African-American history books.
The library will also mix some of this with the current collection and host Du Bois-related programs and events.
The city will also establish an advisory committee to oversee the department.
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The new Du Bois Center would essentially replace the nonprofit, although founder Randy Weinstein would continue researching Du Bois, as well as running his antique shop, North Star Rare Books, in the same location, a- he declared.
He said he would support the center both as a citizen and as chairman of the city’s WEB Du Bois Legacy Committee.
He’s not sure of the timing; it will also depend on the city.
Weinstein said that for three decades he dreamed of Du Bois’s legacy finding a permanent home under city governance.
“Great Barrington and Du Bois are inseparable,” he said.
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The Legacy Committee is wholeheartedly behind the effort.
“I know it’s his life’s work that he donates to the library,” said Gwendolyn VanSant, vice chair of the committee and CEO and founder of Multicultural BRIDGE. “I think it’s also commendable to make all the things he spent his life collecting now accessible to the community.”
VanSant also said the project would be part of the larger, ongoing movement to integrate Du Bois into the city’s culture: the planned Du Bois statue for the library lawn, the restoration of a historic building black church which will focus on Du Bois as well as the Du Bois Boyhood Homesite.
The announcement comes about four years after the city began embracing the legacy of Du Bois, a native of the city, after years of controversy surrounding his remembrance.
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The city now holds, for example, an annual multi-day WEB Du Bois Festival in February around his birthday, and the school district has renamed the college for Du Bois.
Weinstein said his interest in the researcher goes back a long way.
“I’ve always had a passion for history and Du Bois,” he said. “It’s one of my obsessions.”
Decades ago, he worked with troubled youth at the now-closed Kolburne School in New Marlborough, where he was program director.
He found historical figures like Du Bois helpful in engaging students who had been sent to school for delinquency, he said.
He said he would donate up to 500 books to the library, and it would depend on the capacity of the library.
In his mind, the story of Du Bois is inseparable from the rest.
“There is no difference between Du Bois in Great Barrington or regional history, because that is what created Du Bois,” Weinstein said.