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Historic Places

W.E.B. DU BOIS RIVER PARK

Rescue the Housatonic and clean it as we have never in all the years thought before of cleaning it… restore its ancient beauty; making it the center of a town, of a valley, and perhaps-who knows? of a new measure of civilized life.
     –W.E.B. Du Bois, 1930
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The Housatonic River by W.E. Du Bois, 1930

Great Barrington “has turned its back upon the river,” W.E.B. Du Bois warned in a talk about the Housatonic River for the annual meeting of the alumni of Great Barrington and Searles high schools in July, 1930. The speaker commended the town for creating what is now Stanley Park near Cottage Street, according to The Berkshire Courier for July 24, 1930, but he “expressed the hope that upon his next visit to his native town he would see even greater improvements along the Housatonic.”

CLICK for text of speech.

For this valley, the river must be the center. Certainly it is the physical center; perhaps, in a sense, the spiritual center. Perhaps from that very freeing of spirit will come other freedoms and inspirations and aspirations which may be steps toward the diffusion and diversification and enriching of culture throughout this land.
     –W.E.B. Du Bois, 1930

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Du Bois River Garden Park

Were he to visit today, he would appreciate the community effort to transform a blighted section of riverbank into a public riverside greenway and to dedicate a riverside park in his name. The park serves as an entrance to River Walk and is located a few paces from where Du Bois was born. It includes a rain garden where storm water from the street is collected and cleansed by wetland plants before making its way to the river.

CLICK to see examples of native plants that grow in the park.

River Walk volunteers are inspired by Du Bois’s special regard for the “golden river” near which he was born. Again in 1961, he wrote to Searles Alumni Association president George P. Fitzpatrick and admonished the town for failing to clean and restore the river to “a clear and limpid stream, flowing gently through grass, trees, and flowers, flanked by broad roadways and parks as the life stream of the town.”

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Dedication September 28, 2002

The W.E.B. Du Bois River Garden Park was dedicated on Saturday, September 28, 2002, at First Congregational Church, Great Barrington, with Dr. David Graham Du Bois speaking. A special worship service at the Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church followed on Sunday, September 29, 2002, with Rev. Esther Dozier, Pastor, presiding.

CLICK for the full dedication proceedings.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 2007

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1907

W.E.B. Du Bois, 2002

W.E.B. Du Bois, 2002

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W.E.B. Du Bois: Champion of Rivers

The permanent outdoor exhibit––W.E.B. Du Bois: Champion of Rivers Here at Home and Around the World––opened on September 8, 2012. In 2006, the River Park joined the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail.

CLICK to hear Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes read “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” which he composed when he was eighteen years old and Du Bois published in the July 1921 issue of The Crisis.

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Click image for high resolution PDFs of complete exhibition