"This long-overdue biography reestablishes William Monroe Trotter's essential place next to Douglass, Du Bois, and King in the pantheon of American civil rights heroes. William Monroe Trotter (1872- 1934), though still virtually unknown to the wider public, was an unlikely American hero. With the stylistic verve of a newspaperman and the unwavering fearlessness of an emancipator, he galvanized black working- class citizens to wield their political power despite the violent racism of post- Reconstruction America. For more than thirty years, the Harvard-educated Trotter edited and published the Guardian, a weekly Boston newspaper that was read across the nation. Defining himself against the gradualist politics of Booker T. Washington and the elitism of W. E. B. Du Bois, Trotter advocated for a radical vision of black liberation that prefigured leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. Synthesizing years of archival research, historian Kerri Greenidge renders the drama of turn- of- the- century America and reclaims Trotter as a seminal figure, whose prophetic, yet ultimately tragic, life offers a link between the vision of Frederick Douglass and black radicalism in the modern era"--
Trotter was born into a prosperous family, the son of a decorated Civil War veteran, and held the position of Recorder of Deeds in the Grover Cleveland administration. Trotter grew up in the Hyde Park, then a predominately white suburb of Boston, and studied at Harvard University where he became the first Black man awarded with a Phi Beta Kappa key. Despite his elite background, Trotter as an activist would stand up for poorer and darker-skinned Blacks who were overlooked by other prominent Black leaders of the time. Much of his career was defined in opposition to Booker T. Washington's accommodationist strategies and the influence of his Tuskegee Institute.
Trotter's accomplishments include publishing The Guardian newspaper, which he set up to carry on the legacy of Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator, which became one of the most influential Black newspapers in the early 20th century. Working with W.E.B. Dubois and others, Trotter participated in the Niagara Movement which lead to the establishment of the NAACP. He did not think the NAACP was radical enough, though, and objected to the prominence of white people in the leadership, so instead ended up forming the National Equal Rights League (NERL) in 1908, which failed to gain the support and membership of its rival.
On political issues, Trotter was adamant that Black voters remain independent and not align themselves. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson won the Presidency with the help of Black voters who swung the vote of Massachusetts and other states. After inauguration, Wilson caved to Southern whites and segregated Federal offices. Trotter lead protests against Wilson and had heated face-to-face meetings with the President which earned him a measure of fame in the Black community. Trotter also lead protests against the racist film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, which while they failed to stop the screenings of the movie, did energize the Boston Black activist community.
Trotter's latter years saw him fall into a steep personal and financial decline. Perhaps his fade from prominence contributed to why he was not well known after his death. But Greenidge argues that Trotter was the link in radical Black activism for liberation between Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. I'm glad we have this biography to learn about this overlooked Black radical in Boston and American history.