UMass Amherst Professors Take Part in Historic Meeting of Families of Civil Rights Pioneers W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington

AMHERST, Mass. - Two University of Massachusetts professors were involved in a conference in Roanoke, Va., March 19-21 at which an historic meeting between descendants of early civil rights pioneers W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington took place. The meeting was between Du Bois’s stepson, University of Massachusetts African-American studies and journalism department faculty member David DuBois, and a number of Washington’s descendants. The conference, which was organized by officials at the Washington birthplace in nearby Hardy, Va., also included a presentation by UMass anthropology professor Robert Paynter, one of the leaders of an archeological dig at the Du Bois childhood home in Great Barrington, Mass.

The three-day symposium, "Washington and Du Bois at the Turn of Two Centuries," was initiated by officials at the Booker T. Washington National Monument and sponsored by the National Park Service and the Organization of American Historians. More than 200 historians, teachers, students, and Park Service staff from around the country discussed the long-perceived rift between Washington and Du Bois, the methods and assumptions of scholars studying them, and lessons for civil rights activists today.

"For decades many have held the view that Washington and Du Bois were ideologically opposed to one another, with one advocating integration and the other separation," says David DuBois. "This meeting was something of a rapprochement not only between our families, but between the scholars and activists who identify with them. We all realize that both men made invaluable contributions and that it is time to join their legacies together and move on."

Other speakers at the conference, such as NAACP chairman Julian Bond and poet Nikki Giovanni, also emphasized the need to advance the progress of civil rights by examining the similarities in the thinking of Washington and Du Bois.

"Because of the involvement of the University of Massachusetts with the W. E. B. Du Bois boyhood homesite in Great Barrington, it was very interesting for me to see how historical sites such as the Booker T. Washington Monument can become living embodiments of ideas," says Paynter.

The conference included discussions of African-American civil rights strategies, a workshop on the uses of Washington and Du Bois documents in the classroom, and a tour of the Booker T. Washington birthplace site operated by the National Park Service.