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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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The Mass Media’s Black Leader of the Week

February is Black History Month, and in commemoration each week The Mass Media will be presenting an African American social or political leader with strong ties to Boston. This week’s black leader is William Monroe Trotter.

Born in 1872, Trotter was, according to family records, a great-great grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Trotter graduated Magna Cum Laude with an M.A. from Harvard. He went on to pursue a career in international banking, but hit roadblocks due to his race and ended up in newspaper publishing. He founded The Boston Guardian along with friend George Forbes, which became a source for African Americans all over the country.

Trotter also organized the Boston Literary and Historical Association, which was a forum for racial issues. Both the Boston Literary and Historical Association and The Boston Guardian became very critical of the Booker T. Washington-style accommodationist ideas, which advocated working with “supportive whites” in defeating racism in the long run. The feud reached a climax when Mr. Trotter confronted Mr. Washington after a speech, and Mr. Trotter was subsequently arrested.

In addition to his scholarly work, Trotter also led many protest rallies against segregation, especially in federal government positions. Trotter used The Boston Guardian to promote Woodrow Wilson under the impression that Mr. Wilson would fight racial injustice in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. Mr. Trotter was sorely mistaken when President Wilson was elected and began the process of segregating, and later firing, African American government workers.

After Mr. Trotter and others saw this injustice, they organized a delegation to visit the White House to complain. President Wilson, displeased with the showing, banned Trotter from the White House for the rest of his presidency. Mr. Trotter was also very outspoken about the Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine young black men were accused of raping two white women and were sentenced to death with scant testimony; all but one were eventually released, due to pardon or parole.

In April 1934 Mr. Trotter either jumped or fell to his death on his 62nd birthday at his home in Boston. His accomplishments are not forgotten, even if the majority of African Americans did not agree with his militant civil rights positions at the time. In 1984 UMass Boston created the William Monroe Trotter Institute to “address the needs and concerns of the Black community and communities of color in Boston and Massachusetts.” The Institute has a publication called the Trotter Review, which takes a deeper look at race-related issues within the UMass Boston community and throughout the country. The Trotter Institute also conducts research for organizations all around the country, and works with international bodies to raise awareness about race-related topics.