2019 Du Bois Legacy Festival Remarks
Gwendolyn VanSant delivered the following remarks on February 24, 2019 during the 2019 Du Bois Legacy Festival and 151st Du Bois Birthday celebration.
Good afternoon everyone!
I want to offer you a warm welcome again on behalf of Great Barrington, our Du Bois Legacy Committee, and all of Du Bois’s activists and scholars past and present.
I also want to take a moment to speak about Dr. Du Bois as we gather to honor him today. As many of you know, Du Bois was the editor of the Crisis magazine, co-founder of the NAACP, the first black high school graduate of Great Barrington, and Harvard's first Black PhD graduate. He worshiped here in this church where we all sit today as a young boy with his family.
This weekend we uplift Du Bois and recognize him for his courage and brilliance. I personally want to celebrate his spirit of inquiry. As an activist, this is something Du Bois modeled for future generations to come. Du Bois was a discerning thinker who asked such important questions in his lifetime.
Du Bois is important to me for so many reasons, but I especially love how he was not afraid of complexity, the nuances of identity, or contradictory ideas as the world and his relationship with several nations of the globe evolved. He held many perspectives and truths, and he shared them readily.
He believed in growth, the pursuit of knowledge, and more than anything, our collective humanity. By this I mean he believed in our collective talents and in collective hard work! He taught us that we need to lead through government participation and academic scholarship both. He demonstrated a multitude of ways to be an activist.
We are here today to honor this man, as sage and timeless spirit—the sum of his thoughts, accomplishments, and decades of activism. Let’s pay attention to all of his lasting lessons and hold today that one of his parting and relevant lessons was that the United States simply cannot be the country of freedom—with a mantra Liberty and Justice for all—with its very roots in the foundations of a capitalism that feeds off of oppressive constructs of race and gender, just to name a few. This is a man who believed deeply in racial justice, gender justice, and economic justice. This is a man who advocated for women's rights and honored Black women for their labor, achievements, and leadership.
Du Bois challenges us to be critical thinkers who can ask the hard questions, lean into the complexities of our lives, and speak up... unafraid of the consequences (or less afraid than if we didn’t speak up). Du Bois is asking all of us still today to go "beyond the veil." As we celebrate him today, I encourage you to hold his words in your own heart, not just during this afternoon, but for the length of the work ahead!
"Believe in life!" Du Bois wrote. "Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life."
Gwendolyn closed her remarks by reading W. E. B. Du Bois's Credo (1904).
© 2019 Gwendolyn VanSant