Celebrating Black History Month: Robert Abbott


Photo via BlackPast.org

Lauren Thomas

A voice for the voiceless. Robert Sengstacke Abbot was the founder of the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper. The Chicago Defender made Abbott one of the country’s most prominent post-slavery black millionaires, along with beauty product industrialist Madam C.J. Walker. He also paved the way for prominent black publishers such as Earl G. Graves, John H. Johnson, and Edward Lewis.

Abbot was born just 5 years after the end of the civil war and was the son of slaves. He grew up with a half German stepfather who’s relatives eventually joined the Nazi movement in the 1930’s. Ironically, Abbot grew up being taught to hate racial injustice despite encountering it every day of his life.

Abbot graduated from Hampton University and was one of the g million African Americans from the real south who migrated to urban cities in the west, northeast, and Midwest. Abbot landed himself in Chicago and took it upon himself to welcome the many other African Americans that were fleeing the Jim crow south. With 25 cents in the capital and a four-page pamphlet handed out only in black neighborhoods, Abbot started what would eventually be his Chicago Defender. The paper’s success and rise in follower-ship were mostly due to Abbott being a natural hustler.

The defender was initially banned in the south due to its strong encouragement for blacks to leave the south and head to the north. But the Georgia native used a few black railroad porters (who would eventually be known as the brotherhood of sleeping car porters) to distribute the paper in the southern states.

Abbot and the defender later turned their attention to other issues such as Jim crow segregation, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and the deadly 1919 Chicago riots, all afflicting blacks in the early 20th century. Abbot eventually handed the defender over to his nephew, John H. Sengstacke, who eventually headed black newspapers in Detroit, Memphis, and Tennessee.

Abbot did everything in his power and more to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Abbot is a prime example of using your platform for the greater good.