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date: 23 October 2020

Abbott, Robert Sengstacke locked

1868–1940 African American founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago Defender, the largest black-owned daily newspaper in the United States.
  • Robert Fay

Extract

Robert S. Abbott was born in Frederica, Georgia, the son of Thomas and Flora (Butler) Abbott, both former slaves. From 1892 to 1896, he attended Hampton University in Virginia, where he learned the printing trade. Abbott moved to Chicago, Illinois, to attend Kent College of Law, graduating in 1898. He practiced law for a few years, then changed careers to become a journalist.

Abbott founded the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper in May 1905. He launched the paper with $25, and operated at first out of his kitchen. Under his direction, the Defender became the most widely circulated African American newspaper of its time and a leading voice in the fight against racism. Abbott cultivated a controversial, aggressive style, reporting on such issues as violence against blacks and police brutality. The Defender raised eyebrows with its antilynching slogan If you must die ...

A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.

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