This documentary is the story of William Monroe (W.M.) Trotter, the nearly forgotten editor of a Boston black newspaper who helped launch a nationwide movement in 1915 to ban Hollywood’s first blockbuster movie, the later controversial The Birth of a Nation.
I was struck by two main elements.
One, that nothing has changed. The fight continues, and our battle has only morphed into new expressions, but it is fundamentally of the same substance. There are far too many parallels to today (this story takes place, now, over 100 years ago), and yet, we seem to have not gained any stronger moral capacity as a collective whole. I am heartened by some progress found in the pockets where globalization, migration, and education have enlightened our hearts and minds, and created a more capacious ethnicity, identified more by a commonly shared humanity, rather than the banal superficialities of our more primitive selves. But the power structures that continue to persist, and the nefarious attitudes that support and perpetuate those structures are alive and well. (e.g., see 13th) The fight is still very present.
Two, the fight involves everyone, and every soul, and every heart. I am reminded that the very essence of transformation is found in the trenches of the everyday, not in the icons of a movement’s leaders, nor their famous speeches or writings. Those ought to be celebrated, and venerated, true. Yet, they must also be held in humble status, because, for every minute of speech, or every page of a book that we read, there are hundreds of hours spent, thousands of tears shed, countless drops of blood spilled for that same cause. We must never mistake the “I Have A Dream” speech as the work. As powerful as MLK’s speech was and is, the work were the steps taken to work of a bus boycott, the hours of meetings training for non-violent resistance, the talks parents have given to their children, and the train rides of Trotter to converse with the President of the United States.
But this truth means that this work is available to all of us. We, in our worlds, can continue this work. If we are a parent, we continue this work. If we own a newspaper, we continue this work. If we are in business, religion, education, finance, or the trades, this work is available to all of us.
William Monroe Trotter had earned the respect of many of those he befriended and battled. W.E.B. Dubois would say of his old university companion,
Monroe trotter was a man of historic proportion, ready to sacrifice himself, fearing nobody and nothing, strong in body, sturdy in conviction, and full of unbending belief.
May we, too, be inspired by Trotter, and the thousands of other leaders of this fight, to also be full of unbending belief.