Early Life and EducationWilliam Monroe Trotter was born on April 7, 1872, in Chillicothe, Ohio, and raised in Hyde Park, Boston. His father, James, was a writer and former civil rights lieutenant who worked in real estate. Trotter excelled in academics growing up, becoming his predominantly-white high school's class president and attending Harvard College in the early 1890s. He became the college's first African-American student to be elected Phi Betta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude in 1895, later earning a master's degree. Stalled from going into banking due to discrimination, Trotter worked in real estate. In 1899, he married Geraldine L. Pindell.
Founding 'The Guardian'Trotter became a staunch opponent of racial discrimination and found himself in conflict with Booker T. Washington, the era's most popular African-American leader. Washington advocated a more conciliatory approach with the status quo and pushed for African Americans to pursue vocational and agricultural training, which Trotter found to be a problematic stance considering Washington's luminary status among white political leaders.
In 1901, Trotter co-founded the Boston Literary and Historical Association and, with colleague George Forbes, established The Guardian, a newspaper that pushed for African-American equality and critiqued Washington's views.
Becoming Allies With W.E.B. Du BoisIn the summer of 1903, Washington visited the AME Zion Church in Boston to give a speech. During the meeting Trotter questioned Washington, which led to a shouting match and ensuing ruckus dubbed "The Boston Riot" by the press. Trotter was arrested, fined and sentenced to a month's imprisonment, during which time he read W.E.B. Du Bois' book The Souls of Black Folk.
Upon release, Trotter co-established the National Negro Suffrage League and in 1905 worked with Du Bois to help organize The Niagara Movement, a group of African-American leaders who gathered in Canada and set forth a manifesto calling for full equal rights for black citizens, with the words, "We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American, political, civil and social."
Taking on Woodrow WilsonThough Trotter later attended the 1909 conference that would lead to the creation of the NAACP, he wouldn't align himself with the civil rights organization due to his insistence on there being an all-black group and thus focused on developing the National Equal Rights League.
Trotter also voiced his opinion in the realm of presidential politics. He had initially supported Woodrow Wilson during his campaign, but protested the administration's policies after seeing that Wilson supported job segregation, with Trotter making his views known at two separate White House meetings. Trotter also led campaigns against the 1915 film Birth of a Nation and its racist messages.