For more than 30 years, Harvard-educated Trotter edited and published the Guardian, a weekly Boston newspaper that advocated for black working-class citizens to wield their political power despite the violent racism of post- Reconstruction America. This biography reestablishes Trotter's essential place next to Douglass, Du Bois, and King in the pantheon of American civil rights heroes.
The Guardian editor, Du Bois wrote, was 'a clean-hearted, utterly unselfish man whom I admired despite his dogged and unreasoning prejudices.' That man comes through in Black Radical, Kerri K. Greenidge’s spirited biography, an ardent and mostly approving account of Trotter’s life that nevertheless conveys the more vexing elements of his personality ... Black Radical opens up a rich seam of inquiry that persists to this day, about the tug-of-war between reformers and radicals, and whether victories that seem purely symbolic at first can ripple out into real-world effects later on.
Black Radical frames Trotter as a hero for today’s generation of black activists: exuding pride in black excellence, raging at white supremacy, distrusting of white liberals, uncompromising in his ideals ... Black Radical is most valuable for charting Trotter’s extraordinary political journey ... Greenidge writes with a sledgehammer, pounding on her arguments about Trotter’s radical independence and populist appeal ... Black Radical could have probed deeper, however, on the personality behind the politics ... As Greenidge documents, Trotter’s stubborn militancy both alienated potential allies and enhanced his popular standing. But it is not entirely clear why Trotter was so perpetually prickly.
[Trotter's] legacy presents a challenge to those who seek change today: is compromise a necessary evil of any social movement, or is it the original sin of collective action? ... One of the most satisfying accomplishments of Black Radical is the way that Greenidge situates Trotter’s biography in the broader story of liberal New England.