Robert Sengstacke Abbott was a pioneering African-American journalist, lawyer, and newspaper publisher who made significant contributions to the civil rights movement and the advancement of African Americans-in the United States. He was born on November 24, 1870, in Frederica, Georgia, to former slaves, Thomas and Flora Abbott. Abbott was the second of three children and was raised in a household that valued education and hard work.
Abbott’s father, Thomas, was a successful businessperson who owned a grocery store, a saloon, and several rental properties. His mother, Flora, was a homemaker who encouraged her children to pursue education and to excel in their studies. Abbott attended public schools in Georgia before enrolling at Hampton Institute in Virginia, a historically black college that provided vocational training and academic instruction to African Americans. After completing his studies at Hampton, Abbott moved to Chicago in 1893, where he found work as a waiter, a hotel clerk, and a bellboy. He also attended law school at Kent College of Law and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1898, becoming one of the first African Americans to practice law in the state.
In 1905, Abbott founded the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper aimed at African Americans in the Midwest. The newspaper covered local news, national events, and issues affecting the African-American community, such as lynchings, discrimination, and Jim Crow laws. Abbott was committed to providing a voice for African Americans and challenging the prevailing racist attitudes of the time.
The Chicago Defender quickly gained a following among African Americans, and its circulation grew rapidly. Abbott used his newspaper to promote the Great Migration, the movement of African Americans from the South to the North in search of better economic and social opportunities. The newspaper painted a picture of the North as a safe haven for African Americans and encouraged them to make the move. Abbott himself traveled to the South to promote the Great Migration and to help people with the logistics of relocating.
Abbott was also active in the African-American community in Chicago, serving on the boards of several organizations and advocating for civil rights and social justice. He was a vocal critic of the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups, and he used his newspaper to expose their activities and to call for action to protect African Americans from violence and discrimination.
Abbott was married twice and had two children. He died on February 29, 1940, at the age of 69. His legacy lives on through the Chicago Defender, which continued to be published until 2019, and through his contributions to the civil rights movement and the advancement of African Americans in the United States.