Black radical The life and times of William Monroe Trotter

Kerri Greenidge

Book - 2020

"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 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"--

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New York, NY : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc [2020].
First edition
Physical Description
xxii, 408 pages : 1 illustration ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [357]-393) and index.
Main Author
Kerri Greenidge (author)
  • Introduction: Looking out from the dark tower
  • Abolition's legacy : radical racial uplift and political independence
  • Becoming the guardian : perils of conservative racial uplift
  • The greatest race paper in the nation
  • Of riots, suffrage leagues and the Niagara Movement
  • Negrowump revival
  • The new Negro legacy of the Trotter-Wilson conflict
  • From Birth of a Nation to the National Race Congress
  • Liberty's Congress
  • The stormy petrel of the times
  • Old Mon.
Review by Booklist Review

One of the maddening frustrations of African American history as it is conventionally taught is the simplistic elevation of a solitary, heroic figure to represent an era: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. Of course the story is far more complex, involving a range of nuanced characters who rarely make it onto the February posterboards. William Trotter is one such unjustly neglected figure. Founder and publisher of Boston's radical black newspaper the Guardian, (established four years before the Chicago Defender),Trotter articulated a working-class vision of black liberation blending labor activism and civil disobedience with an uncompromising insistence on full social and political rights for African Americans. Rejecting both the accommodationist politics of Booker T. Washington and the talented tenth elitism of W.E.B. Dubois, and challenging the complacency of northern liberals who preferred to see racism as a uniquely southern problem, Trotter resists easy categorization. Yet as Greenidge argues in her beautifully realized biography, Trotter's theory and practice of black liberation anticipated Black Lives Matter and the contemporary focus on institutional rather than individual racism. Essential reading for our times.--Lesley Williams Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Tufts University professor Greenidge debuts with a vital, deeply researched biography of William Monroe Trotter, founder, in 1901, of the Guardian, the "weekly newspaper of colored Boston." Born in 1873 to a former slave turned Union Army lieutenant and a descendant of the Hemings clan once owned by Thomas Jefferson, Trotter graduated from Harvard in 1895 and launched a real estate career that, according to Greenidge, made him "one of the wealthiest black men in New England." He founded the Guardian as an "arsenal" in the war for civil rights, using the paper's editorial section to attack the accommodationist policies of Booker T. Washington and expose racial injustices in the Jim Crow South. As an activist, Trotter cofounded the Niagara Movement, a forerunner of the NAACP, with W.E.B. Du Bois in 1905; confronted President Woodrow Wilson over his segregationist policies during a 1914 White House visit; and led protests against the pro--Klu Klux Klan film The Birth of a Nation. But Trotter's legal entanglements and poor business management skills, Greenidge writes, took a financial toll, and in April 1934 he jumped to his death from a rooftop. Greenidge writes with urgency and clarity while synthesizing a wealth of archival material. Her eye-opening account elegantly traces Trotter's rise and fall and uncovers early 20th-century Boston as "the center of radical African American politics." (Nov.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

William Monroe Trotter (1872--1934) was an uncompromising, Harvard-educated, black radical, who founded, edited, and published the weekly Boston Guardian from 1901 till his death, explains Greenidge (director, Ctr. for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts Univ.). Trotter spurned accommodationism and conservatism, battling for political independence to achieve racial uplift, which he viewed as abolition's legacy. He strove to create the greatest African American newspaper in the nation, making it a fixture in Boston politics and America's cultural landscape. Greenidge situates the protest leader and agitator in time and place, showing his unflinching public outrage in advancing grassroots racial justice and full citizenship rights. Trotter stood as the central figure of radical black politics, demonstrates Greenidge, defiant in confronting white supremacy and critical of his fellow black leaders for their failure to advance their people's cause. VERDICT Greenidge's meticulously documented, free-flowing narrative draws telling comparisons between the opening of the 20th and 21st centuries to reorient the career of black radicalism, showing how Trotter developed the art of public protest and civil disobedience. A must-read for both scholars and general readers interested in the civil rights movement. [See Prepub Alert, 4/28/19.]--Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A prominent newsman helped shape decades of civil rights activism.Greenidge (Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora/Tufts Univ.) makes her literary debut with an impressively researched biography of African American newspaperman and activist William Monroe Trotter (1872-1934), whose uncompromising views made him an influentialand controversialfigure. Born in Boston, raised among educated blacks dubbed "negrowumps," the precocious Trotter "was reading and writing entire Bible passages by four" and later participated, at his parents' dinner parties, in "passionate, often raucous debate over racial representation, political radicalism, and the continued deterioration of black civil rights." He enjoyed a comfortable middle-class childhood, taking piano lessons, playing tennis, and attending desegregated schools. After graduating at the top of his high school class, he went on to Harvard, where he was both popular and respected, a leader among his classmates. "Confident in the principles under which he'd been raised," Greenidge writes, "Monroe had no reason to believe that he and his colored fellows could not plan a new world' in which all could contend for racial equality." That vision was undermined, as he saw it, by Booker T. Washington's insistence on "conservative racial uplift." Black citizens, Trotter believed, were being "duped into their own enslavement" by Washington's refusal to support black dissent and radical efforts to claim civil rights. In 1901, to counter those ideas, Trotter started his own newspaper, the Boston Guardian, aimed at working-class blacks. Within a short time, it became "the greatest race paper" in America, opening its readers' eyes to radical black politics in Boston and, as the years went on, throughout the country. Greenidge presents Trotter's growing prominence as a spokesman and gadfly in the context of economic, political, and often violent social upheaval in the first decades of the 20th century. A "prickly" and "inflammatory" personality, Trotter nevertheless attracted loyal followers, buoyed by his "populist demand for racial pride and political respect." He was, writes the author, "an icon of New Negro idealism, an unapologetic race man' ready and willing to present his blackness before the world."An absorbing biography that offers a fresh perspective on African American history. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.