A Day in History – Robert Sengstacke Abbott


Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1868 – 1940)


Robert Sengstacke Abbott was born in the State of Georgia, graduated from Hampton Institute, and relocated to Chicago, Illinois, becoming part of the 20th century migration of blacks from the south. 


He was the son of a slave, and because of the intense racism he suffered, he hated racist injustice.  Observing mistreatment of blacks in America, he decided to “move the hand” toward justice in any way he could.  With a 25-cent start-up, Abbott wrote, edited and delivered a four-page pamphlet in black neighborhoods, raising their consciousnesses to the American system of injustice and discrimination. 


Quickly, the pamphlet grew into a newspaper, the Chicago Defender and reached a million weekly readers.  It was banded in the south for a few years because it urged blacks to abandon the Jim Crow south and head north.  However, Abbott found a way to infiltrate the south with his paper … the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, the first African American Union, founded by A. Phillip Randolph. Papers were loaded into porter cars and transported to the south.  With the increased availability, the readership grew and the Chicago Defender not only impacted the rise of the black community in Chicago, but the African American culture nationwide. 


Prior to his death in 1940 of Bright’s disease, Robert designated his nephew, John H. Sengstacke as his successor.  Under the leadership of young Robert, the paper continued to flourish, with distributorships in cities like Memphis and Detroit. 


The Chicago Defender – a bright light in the dark history of America.

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