Still Working to Get a School Named After Du Bois
Great Barrington — Another effort is in the works to rename one of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s three schools after Great Barrington’s most famous native son.
The Berkshire Edge reports, supporters of scholar and civil rights legend W.E.B. Du Bois are gearing up for an effort to rename Monument Valley Regional Middle School in memory of Du Bois, whose 150th birthday anniversary is being celebrated by the town of Great Barrington this year.
Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant of Multicultural BRIDGE and Randy Weinstein of the Du Bois Center at Great Barrington have been spearheading this year’s birthday celebration and education effort on behalf of Du Bois, whom they consider to be misunderstood by many members of the public.
The last time an attempt was made to name a school after Du Bois, it started a controversy that divided the community. In an incident that garnered much publicity, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee in 2004 declined to name after Du Bois one of the two new schools it had just built. The building was named instead after a small watercourse, the Muddy Brook, that runs behind the building on Monument Valley Road.
The decision sparked outrage in the community, with one school committee member calling it a “media circus.” But, as the Du Bois Center’s website makes clear: “There are at least five public schools named for Du Bois in multiple states, including California, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. His face and name twice appeared on United States postage stamps.”
And decades earlier, spurred by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Du Bois’ 100th birthday, a committee redoubled its efforts in 1968 to create a Du Bois memorial at the Du Bois Boyhood Homesite at what is now known as the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site in Great Barrington. The effort, ultimately successful, nonetheless divided the public and sparked great controversy in the news media, both locally and nationally.
VanSant said she and her committee have been talking to town clerks in an effort to work out the logistics of getting a resolution on the ballot for the November elections in the three member towns in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District: Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.
Any vote would be strictly advisory, but Van Sant said the goal is to approach the school committee with an endorsement by a clear majority in all three towns. She and Weinstein have been talking with both the school committee and the selectboard in Great Barrington.
This will be the third try since 2013 to get state aid for the ailing high school. Within the span of 12 months, a pair of $50 million-plus proposals failed when Great Barrington, by far the largest of the three towns in the district, failed to approve an override to Proposition 2½, a state statute that limits tax levy increases.
Asked why Monument Valley Regional Middle School was selected for the renaming rather than a second try at Muddy Brook Elementary, VanSant said a lot of it had to do with the fact that Du Bois’ life is actually taught in the middle school curriculum. In addition, the current name is confusing.
VanSant said she and her committee are talking to town clerks in the three towns who will advise her on how to get the resolution on the ballot. VanSant has been told it might be complicated because it’s also a federal election.
“Once we figure that out, we will craft a statement and get it on the ballot and we’re looking for a majority vote to bring to the school committee and say, ‘Will you do this?”