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Monroe Trotter: "The Guardian" of Boston

Howard Manly | 2/24/2010, 9 a.m.
A mural celebrating “The Guardian’s” publisher at the William Monore Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester. (Banner file photo)...
A mural celebrating “The Guardian’s” publisher at the William Monore Trotter Elementary School in Dorchester. Banner file

One of those “other ways” was what Washington described as a “stench bomb” thrown into the crowd, supposedly by Trotter. No one really knows whether that part of the story was true. One thing is pretty clear: things quickly got out of control.

Historians paint a chaotic scene: radicals hissing and booing at Washington while others hissed and booed amid shouts of “Throw Trotter out the window.”

For his part, Trotter stood on a  chair and shouted his questions. The shouting quickly turned to shoving and only ended when billy-club wielding cops plowed through the crowd and arrested Trotter and his associate, Greenville Martin.  

Both were charged with inciting a riot and disorderly conduct, fined $50 and imprisoned for 30 days. Washington supporters were quick to pounce on the unruly Trotter.

It was a small price to pay. The sensationalized media coverage of the so-called Boston Riot demonstrated that Washington was not the only voice in the nation’s racial wilderness.

And more than most, Trotter understood the power of the press.

He knew he needed a wider audience to change the miserable condition of most blacks — and the stubborn attitudes of most whites. But none of those efforts afforded Trotter a national platform.

All of that changed when Trotter started the Guardian with Rev. Williams Scott and George W. Forbes. The first issue appeared on Nov. 9, 1901, and cost a nickel. Trotter opened the Guardian’s office in the same building that housed William Lloyd Garrison’s fiercely abolitionist “Liberator.”

He published the newspaper almost without fail, missing only two issues between 1901 and 1934, even writing during his 30-day sentence in Boston. It quickly became a national institution, catching the attention of another Harvard man, W.E.B. Dubois. He described the Guardian as “bitter, satirical and personal; it was  well-edited, it was earnest and it published facts. It attracted wide attention across the country; it was quoted and discussed.”

And that was the “Guardian’s” role, Trotter once explained.

“We want laws enforced against the rich as well as the poor;” Trotter once wrote, “against white as well as Black... We want a decent education for our children... They have a right to know, to think, to aspire.”

In 1910, he organized a successful demonstration against the white supremacist, “The Clansman” in Boston. In 1915, he again picketed the Tremont Theater where the racist D.W. Griffiths film “Birth of a Nation” was being shown.

When he refused to leave the theater lobby, police arrested him. He was later tried and acquitted. But unable to prevent the showing of the film, “Birth of a Nation” went on to have a successful run in Boston, largely the result of the backing of popular Irish Mayor James Michael Curly.

As the watchdog against discrimination, Trotter was unafraid to take his protest to the White House. Dissatisfied with Roosevelt during the 1912 election, the “Guardian” endorsed Woodrow Wilson in the hope that he would prove a better friend to the Negro.

That hope seemed misplaced when Wilson appointed five southern white men to his cabinet, including a Texan, Albert Burleson, to the head the U.S. Post Office, a substantial employer of blacks.