Robert Abbott, the founder and editor of The Chicago Defender, was raised in Geor¬ gia by his mother and his stepfather, a man who had such a positive influence on Abbott that he took his surname, Sen- gstacke, as his middle name. It was in Sen- gstacke’s Georgian newspaper office that Abbott learned the printing trade. He then left for Chicago, where he attended Hamp¬ ton Institute and Kent College of Law.
After graduation, Abbott tried to found a practice, and ended up moving to the Mid¬ west and working for five years before returning to Chicago in 1903. In 1905, he reportedly invested his entire savings, a total of 25 cents, into the first edition of The Chicago Defender.
The first issue was a four page document produced at a desk in his landlady’s kitchen and sold door-to-door for two cents each.These were the humble begin¬ nings of one of America’s influ¬ ential black newspapers.
Dedicated to increasing the migration of African-Americans to the comparatively liberal North, The Defender was one of the few voices speaking honest¬ ly on black issues, educating people about lynchings, the coming machination of farming in the South, and the improved standard of living for African- Americans in the industrialized North.
The Chicago Defender was a strong supporter of the NAACP and claimed its goals as the goals of the newspaper: manhood suf¬ frage, an end to discrimination in public accommodations, the right to socialize with all willing to socialize with them, equality under the law, and education for all children.
To these ends, Abbott published some of the best writers and thinkers on the subjects of concern to black America. Though The Defender was sometimes banned in areas for its militancy, Abbott often supported his position with dramatic exposes on the extremity of racism, the violence and the dire economic circumstances experienced by African-Americans in both the South and the North.
Outside the newspaper, Abbott was a great activist. Serving on the Chicago Com¬ mission of Race Relations, he worked for the desegregation of neighborhoods and supported political candidates who fought for the inclusion of African-Americans in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.