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

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.”  

Prior to becoming President, Wilson had publicly stated his opposition to Black suffrage, described Black people as “an ignorant and inferior race,” and repeatedly praised the Ku Klux Klan to the point that he was quoted liberally in D.W. Griffith’s infamous film the Birth of a Nation, which envisioned the KKK as saviors of the South. As President, Wilson re-segregated much of the Federal government and screened Birth of a Nation at the White House.  

In 1914, Wilson’s was personally confronted in the White House over his segregationist policies by William Monroe Trotter (1872 – 1934), who was editor of the Boston-based Guardian newspaper, a graduate of Harvard University, and a co-founded the Niagara Movement – a precursor to the NAACP. Wilson responded to Trotter’s criticism by stating to the group of assembled Black professionals that “Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” After Trotter rejected Wilson’s assertion as “untenable, in view of the established facts,” Wilson ejected Trotter from the White House, declared himself offended, and refused to engage with Trotter or his fellow activists. 

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 recognized 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: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/dcawards2021. 

 

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