William Monroe Trotter was a journalist and activist best known for challenging Booker T. Washington and aligning himself with W.E.B. Du Bois. After the turn of the 20th Century, Trotter used his platform and influence to decry Washington and launch campaigns on behalf of equal rights for Blacks
Trotter was born April 7, 1872 in Ohio and raised in Boston’s mostly white Hyde Park neighborhood. Although born to a middle class, mixed race family, the Trotters faced racial barriers yet excelled in spite of them. This was especially true for Trotter, who entered Harvard University and became the school’s first Black member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor fraternity.
After leaving the school in 1896, Trotter hoped to enter the banking world but was denied at several points due to race. After a career in real estate, Trotter joined with George Forbes in forming The Boston Guardian, a paper that largely took aim at Washington’s idea that Black Americans could get head in the realm of farming and menial jobs.
He was so resistant to Washington’s beliefs that Trotter was arrested after interrupting Washington’s speaking event at a AME Zion church event in 1903. After spending a month in jail, Trotter became familiar with the writings of Du Bois, another of Washington’s critics.
In 1905, Trotter helped form the Niagara Movement with Du Bois and others, and then moved on to support the NAACP but didn’t join the organization due to his belief that an all-Black group should be the champions of equal rights. Trotter also helped organize protests in 1915 against the racist propaganda film, A Birth Of A Nation.
Trotter continued his activism, including traveling to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference on his own accord after another target of his protests, President Woodrow Wilson, would not appoint a Black delegate for the talks. He stowed away as a cook on a boat despite his education, using his time in Europe to blast job segregation and other forms of racism in the French media.
Trotter was found dead on his birthday in 1934 outside his home from what some say was an apparent suicide. His legacy lives on Steven B. Fox’s biography on Trotter titled The Guardian of Boston and via a scholarship program in his name at Harvard.
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