The Guardian (1901–1960), an African-American weekly newspaper, served primarily as a forum for its founder and editor, William Monroe Trotter. Self-billed as "America's greatest race journal," it carried the motto "For Every Right with All Thy Might," setting the militant tone for its notorious page 4 editorials on racial issues. While the Guardian attracted a national audience by including social gossip from other major cities, its agenda was explicitly political, emphasizing integration, legal rights, and the importance of strong and persistent agitation. Trotter found it fitting that the Guardian came to occupy the very building where William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist paper, the Liberator, had been produced.
Born into a wealthy Boston family, the Harvard-educated Trotter abandoned a successful business career, convinced that the pursuit of prosperity by African Americans was "like building a house upon the sands" so long as racial discrimination and persecution persisted. Trotter, with fellow Massachusetts Racial Protective Association member George W. Forbes, launched the Guardian on November 9, 1901, in order to aggressively challenge Booker T. Washington's accommodationist model of post-Reconstruction race relations.
Under Trotter's stewardship, the Guardian 's report-age featured his bellicose forays into the political arena, most prominently a public confrontation with Washington in 1903, which was dubbed the "Boston Riot." After the fracas, Forbes quit the paper, significantly weakening its literary quality. Soon thereafter, Washington himself launched a secret campaign to undermine Trotter's political legitimacy and the Guardian itself. But neither smear tactics nor infiltration of Trotter's circle of activists nor the subsidizing of rival publications succeeded in silencing Washington's nemesis. Even those who disagreed with Trotter's methods, such as W. E. B. Du Bois, nonetheless expressed sympathy with his point of view.
The Guardian continued to reflect Trotter's commitment to independent politics, militant integration, and direct action. Presidential endorsements were based on candidates' records on race issues, not on party loyalties. The newspaper gave ample coverage to campaigns Trotter led or supported, including the Niagara Movement, the fight against racial discrimination in the armed forces during World War I, and the public protests against D. W. Griffith's controversial film The Birth of a Nation (1915). In later years, the Guardian defended the Scottsboro Boys and supported New Deal economic policies.
The Guardian, said Trotter, was "not a mere moneymaking business, but a public work for equal rights and freedom." Intent on preserving the Guardian 's independence, he refused to sell shares in or incorporate the paper; because he relied on the black community for support, he did not raise the annual subscription rate until 1920. But the Guardian was Trotter's sole source of income, and he and his wife, Geraldine, made enormous personal sacrifices to keep the paper afloat, mortgaging and selling off property piece by piece until not even their house remained.
While the Guardian bore its founder's personal imprint for many years—both politically and financially—it did survive him. After Trotter's death in 1934, his sister, Maude Trotter Steward, edited the Guardian until she died in 1957.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr. Pioneers in Protest. Chicago: Johnson Publishing, 1968.
Campbell, Georgetta Merritt. Extant Collections of Early Black Newspapers: A Research Guide to the Black Press, 1880–1915, with an Index to the Boston "Guardian," 1902-1904. Troy, N.Y.: Whitestone Publishing, 1981.
tami j. friedman (1996)
renee tursi (1996)