Posted in Black History

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Without Abbott’s creative vision, many of the Black publications of today—such as EbonyEssenceBlack Enterprise, and Upscale—wouldn’t exist. In 1905, Abbott founded the Chicago Defender weekly newspaper.

The paper originally started out as a four-page pamphlet, increasing its circulation with every edition. Abbott and his newspaper played an integral part in encouraging African Americans to migrate from the South for better economic opportunities.

Robert Sengstacke Abbott, ca. 1920Public

Born on December 24, 1870, to formerly enslaved parents in St. Simons, Georgia, Robert Sengstacke Abbott attended Hampton Institute in Virginia and then went on to graduate from Kent Law School (now Chicago-Kent College of Law in Illinois) in 1899. In May 1905 he started publishing the Chicago Defender.

The paper attacked racial injustice, particularly lynching in the south. The Defender did not use the words “Negro” or “black” in its pages. Instead, African Americans were referred to as “the Race” and black men and women as “Race men and Race women.” Many places in the south effectively banned the paper, especially when, during World War I, Abbott actively tried to convince southern blacks to migrate to the north. Abbott managed to get railroad porters to carry his papers south and he ran articles, editorials, cartoons — even train schedules and job listings — to convince the Defender’s southern readers to come north.

The “Great Northern Migration,” as it was called in the Defender, resulted in more than one million blacks migrating north, about 100,000 of them coming to Chicago. The Defender was passed from person to person and read aloud in barbershops and churches. It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week.

In the burgeoning economic times of the 1920s, with hundreds of new products and the growth of advertising, the Defender became an economic success and Abbott became one of the first African American millionaires.  Abbott, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, died in Chicago on February 29, 1940, at the age of 69, with the Defender still a success.


African American HistoryPeople


20th Century (1900-1999)United States – GeorgiaGender – MenUnited States – IllinoisUnited States – VirginiaOccupation-Newspaper Owner


Tamblyn, G. (2007, January 21). Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870-1940).


Roi Ottley, The Lonely Warrior; The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott (Chicago: Regnery Co., 1955);
Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);


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