This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people who have made a difference in Massachusetts.
William Monroe Trotter began publishing the Boston Guardian, a weekly Black newspaper, in November of 1901, and over the next three decades he urged a confrontational style of protest that would later influence the movement for civil rights.
He pushed back on incrementalism, the approach to racial equality that Booker T. Washington put forward, and the two were rivals up until Washington’s death in 1915.
Trotter saw civil disobedience as the most effective way to force change. His philosophy was reflected in his newspaper as well in his activism outside the Guardian’s offices, such as a large protest in front of the Tremont Theatre in 1915 against the racially abhorrent film “The Birth of a Nation.” He also staged sit-ins with Black workers at the Massachusetts State House in support of antilynching legislation.
“Trotter became the guardian of black protest and unflinching black public outrage, his newspaper the vessel through which this rage transformed into grass-roots protest for racial justice,” Tufts professor Kerri Greenidge wrote in her 2019 book “Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter.”
Trotter was born in Ohio on April 7, 1872, and moved with his parents to Boston when he was a young child, where they settled in Hyde Park.
He graduated valedictorian of Hyde Park High School in 1890 and went on to earn a bachelors and a masters from Harvard, where he was the first Black student to graduate Phi Beta Kappa. He began a career in real estate and mortgage lending, but Trotter later decided to start a newspaper and opened the Boston Guardian’s office on Tremont Row in a space that once housed the legendary abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.
He died on April 7, 1934, at age 62 in a fall from the roof of the building where he lived in Lower Roxbury.