W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American scholar and activist who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), spent his early years in a small farmhouse in Great Barrington near the Housatonic River. The property had been in his mother’s family for more than 150 years. On his 60th birthday, in 1928, Du Bois gained ownership of the house, intending to remodel it into a summer retreat. Unfortunately, his finances never allowed him to finish the project. He kept the property for 26 years, eventually selling it to a neighbor who demolished the house.
In 1966, three years after Du Bois’ death, the 5-acre property was purchased by local residents. They formed the Du Bois Memorial Foundation, and built a public park and memorial to Du Bois, which was dedicated in 1969 and marked by a commemorative boulder. Today, a footpath and interpretive trail wind through dense woods to a clearing where the boulder still stands. The path continues on to the former house site, where the remains of a chimney are still visible. In 1983, the University of Massachusetts Amherst began archeological excavations at the site, and in 1987 became the property's custodian.
Now part of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area’s African American Heritage Trail, the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1979.