The 1960’s were a time of social change and Joe William Trotter, Jr., was part of that change, changing all the way from being a black student at Newcomerstown High School during a time of racial unrest throughout the United States to becoming a noted author and professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.
And he credits the encouragement he received at Newcomerstown High School as part of the impetus behind his success.
Prof. Trotter just released his latest book, "Workers in America: Black Labor in the Making of America," but this publication is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Prof. Trotter’s literary legacy. At the end of this article is a list of publications in which his work has been featured.
And what are his qualifications for writing the book? Take a deep breath...
Joe William Trotter, Jr. is Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice and past History Department Chair at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is also the Director and Founder of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE). Professor Trotter received his BA degree from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota. He is currently working on a study of African American urban life since the Atlantic slave trade.
Dr. Trotter teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in African American and U. S. urban, labor, and working class history. He has delivered scholarly papers and lectures in a variety of professional forums in the United States and abroad, including institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, and the Middle East. He has served on the boards and committees of numerous professional organizations: Executive Council, OAH; Chair, Nominating Committee, OAH; OAH Program Committee; Executive Council, SHA; Program Committee, SHA; Francis B. Simkins Prize Committee, SHA; Immigration History Society Executive Board; Jameson Fellowship Committee, AHA; Program Committee, Oral History Association; chair of the annual Program Committee of the American Historical Association. He is also a past member and past Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the H. John Heinz III Regional History Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, and past President of the Labor and Working Class History Association. He is now President-Elect of the Urban History Association
"My family moved to Newcomerstown from Vallscreek, McDowell County, West Virginia in 1961," Prof. Trotter said. "We arrived in Newcomerstown just in time for me to start my junior year in high school. I must say that at that age I was a very reluctant migrant. I detested having to leave the small coal mining community of my birth and early upbringing. Moreover, I enjoyed life at the all-black racially segregated Excelsior High School, where I had decided to pursue a diploma in the trade of brick masonry and envisioned that someday I might be able to make a living laying brick on new construction projects. But my mother made an executive decision to move her family from the coalfields of Southern West Virginia."
And that move proved to be a big part of who became a professor influencing thousands of students and others in looking at black history.
"I am a product of a large coal mining family of 14 children (10 sisters and 3 brothers)," Prof. Trotter remembered. "My mother and father migrated to the coalfields from the Birmingham District in Alabama during the late 1930’s. Following my father’s untimely death in 1957, my mother, now a widow with 12 children still living at home, soon moved the family to Newcomerstown.??
"My fondest memories of Newcomerstown include the opportunity to study, concentrate on my course work, and achieve honor roll distinction at Newcomerstown High School. Newcomerstown did not have a brick masonry program, so I was forced to take more general courses rather than spending a half day in trade school developing my skills as a potential brick mason. Moreover, following my father’s death, a number of chores, including scavenging for coal and wood to keep our family warm, had absorbed much of my time following each school day and left little time engage deeply in my academic course work. Thus, while I excelled in brick masonry, I received only mediocre grades in my other courses. Moving to Newcomerstown liberated me from time-consuming after school chores and I truly enjoyed going to my little desk and studying for the next day’s classes."
It was the family support that allowed Prof. Trotter to develop his educational direction.
"As a widow with a large family, I credit my mother Mrs. Thelma Odell Trotter for encouraging all of us (the boys and girls alike) to do our very best in school, gain necessary skills, and create a better life for ourselves than we had experienced as children growing up in a large family. Indeed, her encouragement, love, and the memory of our father inspired us and helped to offset the sting of being poor and provided a real source of enjoyment in our lives as a family. My brother Otis tells this story of the Trotter family beautifully in his memoir "Keeping Heart", published by Ohio University Press.
"For my part, however, my teachers in Newcomerstown played an important role in helping me to see the possibility of going to college and pursuing a career in teaching. It was my coach and geography teacher, Mr. John Haugh, who proved pivotal in urging me to actually find a way to go to college. Although my grades in Newcomerstown qualified me to enroll in college, I had no plans for going to college before a chance event near the very end of my senior year. Following graduation, I had planned to enlist in the U. S. Air Force. One day, I persuaded my mother to allow me to miss a day of school to go to New Philadelphia to sign up for the Air Force, but on that day the recruiting office was for some reason closed. When I returned to class the following day, Coach Haugh asked me why I had missed class the previous day.
"I rarely missed a day of class at Newcomerstown High. When I told him that I had gone to enlist in the military, a very worried and even pained look crossed his face and he said, and I almost remember his exact words, ‘Do not enlist in the Air Force, go to college if there is any way at all possible.’ His words had a profound impact on me. So that when I returned home and told my mother what he had said, she replied, ‘If you really want to go to college instead of the Air Force, then it might be possible.’ She wrote to my aunt who lived in Evanston, Illinois and arranged for me to move there, get a job, enroll in Kendall Junior college first on a part-time basis before moving on to Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin where I met my beautiful wife H. LaRue and received my BA degree in history and education."
And that was the start of something that has become a passion for history, black history, and the pursuit of the greater good.
Prof. Trotter notes, "As a teacher, writer, and historian, I would like people to know me as someone who believes that history and historical scholarship is a great resource, open to all. It not only enriches and empowers our lives by connecting us to the struggles and triumphs of past generations, but it gives us hope for the future."
Prof. Trotter still points to his own history as the foundation for his future in education and literature.
"As the eldest of four men among the ‘Trotter-14,’ I dedicated this book with love to my three brothers Rahmaan Rasheed (James Edward), Otis, and David Wayne," Prof. Trotter said.
"African American Urban Electoral Politics in the Age of Jim Crow," Journal of Urban History (special issue, edited with historian Lisa Materson, in-press, 2017).
"The Dynamics of Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. Coal Industry from the Civil War through Recent Times," International Journal of Social History, 15 September 2015, online and in print.
Teenie Harris Photographer: Image, Memory, History (with Cheryl Finley and Laurence Glasco, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011).
Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh Since World War II (with Jared N. Day, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).
African American Urban History Since World War II (edited with Kenneth Kusmer, University of Chicago Press, 2009).
Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915-45 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985, paperback edition, 1988, new edition, expanded, 2007).
The African American Urban Experience: From the Colonial Era to the Present (edited with Earl Lewis and Tera W. Hunter), (New York, NY: Palgrave Publishing Company, 2004).
Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, Vols. I and II (associate editor, Robert S. McElvaine, general editor), (New York, NY: Thomson/Gale, 2004).
The African American Experience, Vols. 1 and 2 (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
River Jordan: African American Urban Life in the Ohio Valley (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1998).
African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives (with Eric L. Smith), (Harrisburg, PA and University Park, PA: PHMC and Penn State University Press, 1997).
Blacks in the Industrial Age: A Documentary History, 1915-1945 (edited with Earl Lewis), (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1996).
From a Raw Deal to a New Deal?: African Americans in Depression and War, 1929-1945, Vol. 8 (the Young Oxford History of African Americans, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995).
The Great Migration in Historical Perspective: New Dimensions of Race, Class, and Gender (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991).
Honoring Our Past: Proceedings of the First Three Conferences on West Virginia's Black History (with Ancella Bickley), (Charleston, WV: Appalachian Laboratory and the West Virginia Humanities Commission, 1991).
Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990).
African American Urban Life Since the Atlantic Slave Trade (in progress)
Work, Culture, and Power: Blacks in the Urban Deep South, 1910-1940 (long-range project)
African-American History I
African-American History II
U. S. History Since the Civil War
U.S. Urban History
American Labor History
African American Urban and Labor History
Department Member Since: 1985