Mr. Monroe Trotter. Mr. President, we are here to renew our protest against the segregation of colored employees in the departments of our National Government. We [had] appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as President and with your pre-election pledges to colored American voters. We stated that such segregation was a public humiliation and degradation, and entirely unmerited and far-reaching in its injurious effects. . . .
Monroe Trotter (1872-1934) did not blend into the crowd. He stood out and stood up, raising his voice unapologetic on behalf of what he believed was right. That was his agenda as orator and as editor of the Boston Guardian , which he founded in 1901.
President Woodrow Wilson. The white people of the country, as well as I, wish to see the colored people progress, and admire the progress they have already made, and want to see them continue along independent lines. There is, however, a great prejudice against colored people. . . . It will take one hundred years to eradicate this prejudice, and we must deal with it as practical men. Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation.
In an undated photograph, Dr. Charles Steward stands near the entrance of “The Guardian,” the weekly newspaper started by his brother-in-law William Monroe Trotter. Steward and his wife, Maude, ran the paper after Trotter’s death in 1934. Maude died in 1957 and with Dr. Steward’s blessing, Melvin B. Miller started the Banner eight years later. (Banner file photo)
In 1912 Trotter helped support Woodrow Wilson for president, who disappointed his supporters by allowing the re-segregation of workspaces in several federal agencies. As a political activist, Trotter led several protests against segregation in the federal government.
Mr. Monroe Trotter: "It is not in accord with the known facts to claim that the segregation was started because of race friction of white and colored [federal] clerks. The indisputable facts of the situation will not permit of the claim that the segregation is due to the friction. It is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness, doing so even through two [President Grover Cleveland] Democratic administrations. Soon after your inauguration began, segregation was drastically introduced in the Treasury and Postal departments by your appointees."
Trotter and a group of African Americans went to the White House to protest President Wilson’s actions. Offended by Trotter’s manner and tone during their meeting, Wilson banned him from the White House for the remainder of his term in office.
President Woodrow Wilson: "If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me. . . . Your tone, with its background of passion."
Mr. Monroe Trotter: "But I have no passion in me, Mr. President, you are entirely mistaken; you misinterpret my earnestness for passion."