The Accidental Anti-Imperialist – By Joshua Keating (Slate) / June 30 2020
Woodrow Wilson was no less a racist in his foreign policy views than he was at home. But he inadvertently inspired opponents of colonialism around the world.
In 1919, the pioneering newspaper editor and civil rights activist Monroe Trotter obtained papers to work as a cook on a ship sailing from the United States to France. After the ship docked, he learned that crew members were not permitted to disembark, so he sneaked off and arrived in Paris “ragged and hungry and in need of funds,” he would write later.
This was not his first choice as a mode of transportation. Trotter had requested permission from the State Department to travel to the Paris Peace Conference following the end of World War I, to represent the Black American community. But he was denied a visa.
Trotter and Wilson had a history. In 1914, Trotter had led a group of Black activists, all of whom had supported Wilson’s elections, to a meeting with the president where they expressed disappointment with his support for segregation. After Wilson gave a patronizing lecture about how Black Americans would be better off not competing against whites, Trotter told Wilson he risked losing Black voters, at which point the president angrily ended the meeting.
But five years later, after Wilson had sent U.S. troops into World War I in order to, as he put it, “make the world safe for democracy,” and had spoken eloquently about his desire to see “equality among nations,” Trotter sensed an opportunity. He felt that the peace conference, “with its talk of democracy and self-determination,” could “provide a stage from which to tell the world about the plight of the blacks in the United States,” he wrote.