“There can be no freedom without equality.” —William Monroe Trotter
Standing almost alone during the Jim Crow days of forced segregation, open racism, and public lynchings of the early 20th Century, William Monroe Trotter boldly spoke out for equal rights. He was uncompromising in his stand for liberty and justice for all, targeting both the racism of whites and the passiveness of blacks. Because of this he is a great hero of both black history and American history.
William Monroe Trotter was born in 1872. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. In 1901 Trotter started a newspaper called The Boston Guardian to protest against discrimination.
In 1905 Trotter, along with W.E.B. DuBois, drafted the Declaration of Principles for the Niagra Movement, which later produced the NAACP. He said: “Persistent manly agitation is the way to liberty. We refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro American assents to inferiority.”
Although it was very unpopular, even among blacks, Trotter practiced agitation all his life. He spoke out against Booker T. Washington for encouraging blacks to accept discrimination and the denial of their right to vote. (Washington’s view was known as accommodation.) Trotter was even arrested once for trying to present his view at one of Booker T. Washington’s speeches in Boston. The national press put Trotter down by calling his attempt to speak The Boston Riot.
Trotter spoke out and worked against the popular movie Birth of a Nation that ran down black people and glorified KKK terrorism. (Sad, but even today, Birth of a Nation, with all its racism, is considered a great movie.)
In 1914 Trotter was invited to the White House to meet with President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson held strong racist views and had by Presidential order segregated the postal service on racial grounds. When Trotter asked President Wilson to share his views on racial segregation, Wilson replied: “Segregation is not humbling but a benefit. Your manner offends me.” Then he and Wilson had a strong discussion that lasted 45 minutes. The next day Trotter was attacked on the front page of The New York Times.
In 1919 Trotter went to the Paris Peace Conference (which was to end World War I) in an effort to have them outlaw discrimination. The US State Department had denied him a passport, but he reached France anyway by working as a cook on a ship. There were no black delegates at the peace conference and his efforts to be heard were continually denied.
Trotter died in 1934. With great financial and personal difficulty he had published The Boston Guardian for 33 years. Though not accepted in his times, many of William Monroe Trotter’s methods were adopted in the 1950’s by the Civil Rights Movement, especially his use of non-violent protest.
William Monroe Trotter once said: “I have finally given myself wholly to Christ to be led entirely by God. I have laid all my life, my business, my career, in the hands of Jesus and am to live and move in Him. Trust in Christ and then do what He tells you to at any cost. Don’t trust in yourself, but in the power and help of God.”