The Rev. Samuel Harrison of Pittsfield was the chaplain for the famed 54th Mass. Regiment during the Civil War.
I don't know if you've noticed, but Berkshire County is living up to its designation as a cultural Mecca, although I sometimes cringe when I hear the term. Perhaps due to overuse. And while most of our minds are hibernating in a frozen coma, there are still those tireless cultural gurus and volunteers who continue to amaze us with their ingenuity and generosity.
The latest news, which will be made official at a press conference on Monday morning, addresses heritage. In June, cultural organizations all over the county will join forces in to celebrate and highlight African-American culture in the area. The monthlong event is being co-chaired by none other than Shirley Edgerton, the tireless director of Youth Alive! (and a Berkshire County Hero).
The African-American Festival (not sure if this is the official title) is being modeled after the Berkshire Festival of Women in the Arts, which was held in March 2009. The festival, which was spear-headed by Eugenie Sills (founder and publisher of The Women's Times), included film screenings, exhibitions, performances and talks all geared toward examining the role of women in the arts as well as highlighting the work of Berkshire women artists, teachers and performers.
Stay tuned for details on the African-American festival coming to a neighborhood, theater, gallery or Main Street near you….
Something new has hit the real estate market and I'm not sure whether to be excited or alarmed. The austere 1860 (although the original house may have been built in the 1700s) farmhouse that is home to the Nature Conservancy and the Sheffield Land Trust is being sold through Berkshire Property Agents for $525,000. The three-bedroom, 4,600 square foot house is also attached to nearly 27 acres of protected land on Legeyt Road, prime farm country, and on this November morning the land and the lifestock (mostly dairy cows) was shrouded in mist.
The house itself has three bedrooms and there are also several offices located downstairs, as the whole place was renovated in 2006. The house will remain home to the Nature Conservancy and the Sheffield Land Trust until it is sold, although I couldn’t get a real person on the phone to see where, if anywhere, both organizations will move to once the farmhouse is sold.
I wish I could buy it. I've been thinking about what I'd do with a property like that and farming is definitely on the list (beef, lamb, maybe some horses), gardens and, of course, a swinging bench on the front porch ‘cause I’m that kind of girl.
We ventured out into town on a Friday afternoon. We meaning me and my children (Anna, 9 and Lucian, almost 7). Town meaning Great Barrington, which can be brutal on a Friday afternoon. But, I promised them ice cream and “something special” before the sun set on the week. Of course, I wasn’t sure what that something special was going to be, but, as always, we found it with no problem.
The ice cream actually wasn’t ice cream at all. It was gelato. Good, cheap gelato from Alex Café in the “hallway” on Main Street. For $2 a scoop (a generous scoop at that) we were treated to the heavenly rich flavors of coconut, coffee, vanilla and some rich, dark chocolate that was nearly impossible to remove from Lucian’s face. Oh, and the very kind, grandmotherly Greek woman behind the counter brought out two huge jugs of sprinkles and let the kids have at them.
“No charge,” she said. “No charge, they should have as much as they want.”
And they did. We strolled down Railroad Street almost in complete silence. The gelato was working its magic on the children. As we made our way back to the car, both of the kids stopped dead in front of the newly painted Du Bois mural.Lucian got excited.
“Look, Ma, there’s Obama and Martin Luther King. And who’s that guy?” He was pointing to the slim-faced, spray painted rendering of W.E.B. Du Bois.
“That’s Du Bois,” I said. “If it weren’t for him, the other two probably wouldn’t even be on this mural.”
Anna perked up, veering her attention away from her ice cream.
“What’d he do? I mean, he must be a pretty big deal if Martin Luther King was inspired by him.”
I gave them my account of Du Bois as I knew it. I’d read “The Souls of Black Folk” many times ( I was a high school English teacher in a former life) and had given countless lectures
Anna gets thoughtful as she contemplates the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois
to countless teenagers on why Du Bois was so instrumental in the Civil Rights movement that followed him.
They were getting bored.
“You know what,” I said. “I’ll take you to his house where he grew up.”
They were astonished.
“Will we need to fly there?” Anna asked.
“Nope. Just get in the car; it’ll take less than ten minutes.”
We arrived at the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite on Route 23 just as the sun was settling low on the horizon. The path to the site was ablaze with orange pine needles and the smell of autumn was unmistakable.
“Where’s the house,” Lucian asked.
“It’s gone,” I said. “It’s been gone for a long time, but this is the place where the house was.”
The air around us became still. Anna’s face turned pensive.
“I can feel why this is an important place,” she said, reading the signs along the short trail. “It’s hard to imagine him as a boy going to school and just being a kid,” she said.
“Yeah, because we’re just kids, too.”
We were all silent; the weight of the place hit us at the same time. Just think, these very children will grow to be something, maybe a Du Bois, maybe a Dr. King, maybe an Obama. And I think they will remember that golden autumn afternoon when they realized that such a thing was possible.
We live in a place rich with history. Don’t ever forget it.