The Case for Black With a Capital B



Barbara Lewis, Dir. of the William Monroe Trotter Institute on the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP

Barbara Lewis, a cultural historian with a background in theater, is the director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. The Trotter Institute was established in 1984 “to address the needs and concerns of the black community and communities of color in Massachusetts through research, technical assistance, and public service.” The institute publishes the Trotter Review, a journal addressing current issues relating to black studies, race, and race relations.


Its namesake is William Monroe Trotter, an African American civil rights activist, scholar and businessman who founded the Boston Guardian, a widely read newspaper devoted to covering issues affecting people of color, in 1901.


Trotter’s influence was considerable; his newspaper was read all over the country, and his Harvard classmate W.E.B. DuBois attributed his own interest in activism to Trotter. Together they composed a declaration of principles that would be used as a guide by the nascent Niagara Movement, which was instrumental in the formation of the NAACP. Trotter later formed the National Equal Rights League.


His ideas were not popular with everyone; he had a public falling-out with Booker T. Washington in 1903 because he felt that Washington’s turn-the-other-cheek philosophy had rendered him an apologist for segregation. Trotter condemned President Theodore Roosevelt for his treatment of black men in the military, and during a visit to the White House he asked President Wilson why he had gone back on his promises to black voters; as a result he was banned from the White House for the remainder of Wilson’s term.


The latest issue of the Trotter Review commemorates the 100th anniversary of the NAACP. We sat down with Barbara Lewis to ask her why she chose the topic, and if we still need the NAACP in a post-Obama world.