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New Wilson Center Award Honors William Monroe Trotter, His Pioneering Role in Civil Rights —Including His Confrontation with President Wilson

Press Contact: Ryan McKenna
Phone: (202) 691-4217


The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars announced today the creation of a new award aimed at celebrating the life and accomplishments of William Monroe Trotter, one of the pioneer activists for the civil rights of African Americans.

“William Monroe Trotter is an important figure in the American civil rights movement,” said Ambassador Mark Green, Wilson Center President, Director and CEO. “Trotter’s story is an essential part of the American experience and is critical to helping us understand and remember the often-overlooked contradictions of President Wilson’s legacy.”

The Wilson Center was established by the U.S. Congress in 1968 as a living memorial to the 28th President of the United States. “Yet while we have thoroughly explored Wilson’s legacy as a statesman and foreign policy visionary,” said Ambassador Green, “we must also acknowledge and wrestle with the painful aspects of his legacy; namely, Wilson’s record of racism.”

Wilson evinced racist beliefs during his scholarly career, diminishing the evils of slavery and criticizing the architects of Reconstruction for placing the South under “the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes.” As President of the United States, Wilson was slow to condemn the epidemic of lynching that raged across the South, appointed several segregationists to senior positions in the U.S. Government, and presided over the expanded segregation of the federal service that involved separating federal employees by race, firing numerous Black officials, and restricting Black people’s opportunities for hiring and advancement.

In 1914, Wilson was confronted in the White House over his administration’s expanded segregation of the federal workforce by William Monroe Trotter (1872 – 1934), editor of the Boston-based Guardian newspaper, graduate of Harvard University, and co-founder of the Niagara Movement – a precursor to the NAACP. Trotter, speaking for a delegation of black professionals, informed Wilson that, “Separation and distinction marking ... is something that must be a humiliation.” Wilson defended the segregationist policies as preventing racial friction, declared himself offended by Trotter's "tone," and ejected Trotter from the White House.

Until his death in 1934, Trotter fought for the equal treatment of African American soldiers, presented demands for civil rights in France after World War One, and fought for Federal anti-lynching legislation.

The William Monroe Trotter Leadership Award has been established by the Wilson Center to symbolically reject Wilson’s legacy of racism and segregation, and to recognize the critical role that African Americans have played in the formulation, implementation, and analysis of the foreign policy and national security of the United States.

 “The William Monroe Trotter Leadership Award recognizes the inherent strength in our country’s diversity, and reminds us that our history – though painful at times – must be addressed unflinchingly,” said Abraham Denmark, Asia Program Director and co-Chair of the Wilson Center’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.

The inaugural honoree will be honored at the 2021 Wilson Center Awards dinner, to be held on September 27th at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, DC. If you are interested in attending or would like to know more about sponsorship opportunities, visit:

Notes for Editors:


  1. The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policymaking and scholarship to interact. By conducting relevant and timely research and promoting dialogue from all perspectives, it works to address the critical current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world.