William Monroe Trotter
William Monroe Trotter
William Monroe Trotter was born on April 7, 1872, in Chillicothe, Ohio, and raised in Hyde Park, Boston.
Trotter excelled in academics growing up, becoming his predominantly-white high school's class president and attending Harvard University in the early 1890s.
He made history as Harvard's first African-American student to become a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor fraternity before graduating magna cum laude from the school in 1895, later earning a master's degree.
Stalled from going into banking due to discrimination, Trotter worked in real estate. In 1899, he married Geraldine L. Pindell.
Trotter became a staunch opponent of racial discrimination and found himself in conflict with Booker T. Washington, the era's most popular African-American leader. Washington advocated a more conciliatory approach with the status quo and pushed for African Americans to pursue vocational and agricultural training, which Trotter found to be a problematic stance considering Washington's luminary status among white political leaders.
In 1901, Trotter co-founded the Boston Literary and Historical Association. With colleague George Forbes, he established The Guardiannewspaper to disseminate "propaganda against discrimination." The publication pushed for African-American equality and critiqued Washington's views.
In the summer of 1903, Washington visited the AME Zion Church in Boston to give a speech. During the meeting Trotter questioned Washington, which led to a shouting match and ensuing ruckus dubbed "The Boston Riot" by the press. Trotter was arrested, fined and sentenced to a month's imprisonment, during which time he read W.E.B. Du Bois' book The Souls of Black Folk.
Though Trotter later attended the 1909 conference that would lead to the creation of the NAACP, he wouldn't align himself with the civil rights organization due to his insistence on there being an all-black group and thus focused on developing the National Equal Rights League.
Trotter also voiced his opinion in the realm of presidential politics. He had initially supported Woodrow Wilson during his campaign, but protested the administration's policies after seeing that Wilson supported job segregation, with Trotter making his views known at two separate White House meetings. Trotter also led campaigns against the 1915 film Birth of a Nation and its racist messages.