On Saturday, October 27th, Leah Penniman and Ed Whitfield delivered the 38th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of W. E. B. Du Bois. The talks will take place at Saint James Place at 352 Main Street, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington on February 23, 1868. He would become a figure of international importance—the first black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, a tireless advocate for the rights of marginalized people everywhere, a founder of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, and the author of countless influential works of scholarship.
Du Bois believed that racial justice was inseparable from economic justice and that economic inequality was the engine and not simply the consequence of a deeper social inequality. Speakers Leah Penniman and Ed Whitfield are doing work that builds on the legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois— his commitment to black economic development, cooperative structures, and fair access to land.
Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm, is working to end racism in the food system. The title of Penniman’s talk is “Farming While Black: A Legacy of Innovation and Resistance.”
Whitfield, co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities, has written and spoken extensively on non-extractive finance, reparations, and building investment structures that support community self-determination.
This event was hosted by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE.
About the Speakers:
Leah Penniman is an educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2011 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. Penniman is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs – including farmer trainings for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for people living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system.
Penniman holds an MA in Science Education and BA in Environmental Science and International Development from Clark University. She has been farming since 1996 and teaching since 2002. The work of Penniman and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Omega Sustainability Leadership Award, Presidential Award for Science Teaching, NYS Health Emerging Innovator Awards, and Andrew Goodman Foundation, among others. Her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land will hit shelves in November, 2018.
Ed Whitfield is co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities (F4DC). A long time social justice activist, Ed had been involved in labor, community organizing and peace work since the late 60‘s when he was a student activist at Cornell University. He was the chairman of the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission for 9 years and formerly board chairman of Greensboro’s Triad Minority Development Corporation.
In his work with F4DC, Ed helped initiate the formation of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP) and their annual CoopEcon conferences aimed at networking and training among people interested in developing a cooperative new economy in the US South. Ed retired after 30 years in industry before becoming involved with philanthropy. He now speaks and writes on issues of cooperatives and economic development while continuing to be interested in issues of war and peace, as well as education and social responses to racism.
He is currently helping to provide technical assistance to a group of people living in an urban food desert struggling to develop a community owned cooperative grocery store. Ed is deeply involved in conceptualizing and spreading the idea of democratic ownership and the reclamation of the commons.
About W. E. B. DuBois
The following article was written by Aaron Thier for the Schumacher Center’s February enewsletter.
W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington on February 23, 1868. He would become a figure of international importance—the first black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, a tireless advocate for the rights of marginalized people everywhere, a founder of the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, and the author of countless influential works of scholarship. In that sense, he was a cosmopolitan intellectual who belonged, and belongs, to the whole world. But he always understood himself as a product of western Massachusetts. “In general thought and conduct I became quite thoroughly New England,” he wrote in Dusk of Dawn. “It was not good form in Great Barrington to express one’s thought volubly, or to give way to excessive emotion… The Negroes in the South, when I came to know them, could never understand why I did not naturally greet everyone I passed on the street or slap my friends on the back.”
He never lost this sense of himself as a black New Englander, and the experience would shape his understanding of racial dynamics in the United States. Unlike Booker T. Washington, Du Bois was born free into a family that had been free for generations. The circumstances of his birth and upbringing therefore set him apart from black Americans in the South, but the color of his skin set him apart from his white neighbors in the North, even if his childhood was a happy one. His writing is full of a sense of that double-ness: “[The] Negro is a sort of seventh son,” he wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, “born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.” He believed that this “double-consciousness” could ultimately be a source of strength, and he advocated neither assimilation nor segregation but a “proud, enduring hyphenation” in which one could be both black and American at the same time.
Du Bois is a particular hero to the Schumacher Center because he understood that social justice was inseparable from economic justice and that economic inequality was the engine and not simply the consequence of a deeper social inequality. Like British economist E. F. Schumacher, he believed intensely in the value of satisfying work that needed to be done. He considered industrial wage slavery a kind of hell on earth. But more than anything, he articulated a vision of a just and pluralist America:
“The equality in political, industrial and social life which modern men must have in order to live, is not to be confounded with sameness. On the contrary, in our case, it is rather insistence upon the right of diversity; upon the right of a human being to be a man even if he does not wear the same cut of vest, the same curl of hair or the same color of skin. Human equality does not even entail, as it is sometimes said, absolute equality of opportunity; for certainly the natural inequalities of inherent genius and varying gift make this a dubious phrase. But there is more and more clearly recognized minimum of opportunity and maximum of freedom to be, to move and to think, which the modern world denies to no being which it recognizes as a real man.”
(The Souls of Black Folk)
This year, we celebrate the one-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Du Bois’s birth. It is a year of confusion and alarm—a year in which that issue of “proud, enduring hyphenation” is once again a source of acrimonious dispute—and his pragmatic vision is as relevant today as it has ever been.
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Aaron Thier is the author of The Ghost Apple and Mr. Eternity, which was a finalist for the James Thurber Prize for American Humor. His third novel, The World is a Narrow Bridge, will be published in July. He lives in the Berkshires and serves on the board of BerkShares, Inc.