William Monroe Trotter was a newspaper editor and real estate businessman based in Boston, Massachusetts, and an activist for African-American civil rights. In 1901, he founded the Boston Guardian, and independent African-American newspaper, as a vehicle to express his opposition on race policies. However, he is best-known for his persuasive opposition to the racially peacemaking policies advocated by Booker T. Washington and his call for a renewed emphasis on liberal arts education in contrast to Washington’s promotion of manual training.
Trotter was born into a prominent family and raised in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. He earned his degrees at Harvard University. Because of racial discrimination he was stopped from going into banking, so he went to work in real estate. Seeing an increase in segregation in northern facilities, he began to engage in a life of activism, to which he devoted his assets. He joined with W.E.B. DuBois in founding the Niagara Movement in 1905, a forerunner of the NAACP. He later founded the National Equal Rights League.
In 1914 he had a highly publicized meeting with President Woodrow Wilson, in which he protested Wilson’s introduction of segregation into the federal workplace. In Boston, Trotter succeeded in 1910 in shutting down productions of The Clansman but he was unsuccessful in 1915 with screenings of the movie Birth of a Nation, which also portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in favorable terms. In the early 1920’s, Trotter also took a stand against Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its Back to Africa Movement. Trotter died on his 62nd birthday at his home in Boston.