Wilson and Trotter: Beyond the Oval Office
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On November 12, 1914, William Monroe Trotter of Boston confronted President Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office to demand that Wilson fulfil his duty to safeguard the liberty and dignity of black Americans. Wilson angrily dismissed Trotter, and the incident helped secure the latter's place in the pantheon of civil rights heroes. But Trotter was a major figure in the civil rights movement long before he entered Wilson's office, and would remain a major champion of racial equality--in America and across the world--long afterward. Join Professor Kerri Greenidge of Tufts University and Dr. Trygve Throntveit, Global Fellow for History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center, as they examine the famous Trotter-Wilson encounter for what it reveals about the long and complex careers of both figures, and of the American past in an era of social, political, and international upheaval.
Consistent with its mission as a national memorial to the 28th U.S. president, the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program is launching “Woodrow Wilson - Then and Now," a new series of scholarly conversations exploring the significant and complicated legacies of the man and his presidency for our own day. Moderated by Trygve Throntveit, Global Fellow for History and Public Policy, the series will be a platform for an inclusive and critical discussion of Wilson’s biography, his White House tenure, and his longterm impact on U.S. foreign and domestic politics.
“Black Radical is the story of an African American political leader and civil rights agitator who did more than any other newspaper editor of his generation to inspire radical black consciousness at the turn of the twentieth century. At a time when the Black press was owned and operated by racial conservatives, Black and white, who stifle Black dissent for the sake of white comfort and racial respectability, Trotter's Guardian galvanized Black working people to recognize and embrace their political power.” [04:50-05:20]
“The Trotter-Wilson conflict was a proclamation of Black power, rather than a fruitless attempt to affect immediate bureaucratic change. By demanding that Wilson explain himself, Trotter held the president personally responsible for federal segregation and the administration's betrayal of Black voters. Consequently, the Trotter-Wilson conflict was catalytic in new negro political consciousness, even if it couldn’t end segregation or change white Democratic minds. It was a confrontation for colored people, by colored people as they called themselves, that introduced a different form of Black activism that was confrontational and unapologetic rather than pleading and compromising.” [11:17-11:58]
“That was what he was fighting for…that beyond just the United States there was this global struggle, and this was part of his argument with Wilson too, there was this global struggle of what he called the colored peoples of the world who were being exploited. He really foresaw that that would develop as America became an empire, that you were exporting and creating this sort of racial unrest throughout the rest of the world. So when he used the term colored he really saw it as a revolutionary term and not exclusive, and actually many of his later followers, people like Marcus Garvey, for instance, was a Trotter fan, agreed with that term as well” [31:06-31:48]
“One of the threads in, at least as I read Trotter through your work and also one of the threads in your book but, (in) Trotter's discourse is to put at the forefront of all of his advocacy and his encounters with whites or racial conservatives among African Americans, that he and all of the gentile poor, and African Americans generally should be very proud of their Blackness. That there's no need to apologize for being Black period for any reason.” [27:15- 27:49]
“Some of what you've said before kind of leads me to believe that Trotter sort of understood that Wilson was accommodating the solid South, he had other priorities that he set that went far above, shamefully, far above the civil rights of the 500,000 people who voted for him and all the other African Americans in the country.” [44:07-44:30]
History and Public Policy Program
The History and Public Policy Program strives to make public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, to facilitate scholarship based on those records, and to use these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs. Read more