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African American Newspapers Forum

Chicago Defender Founders History

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Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870-1940)
newspaper publisher and editor

Robert S. Abbott was born in 1870 in Frederica, St. Simons Island, Georgia of former slave parents, and studied the printing trade at Hampton Institute from 1892 to 1896. He received a law degree from Kent College of Law, Chicago in 1898, but because of race prejudice in the United States was unable to practice, despite attempts to establish law offices in Gary, Indiana, Topeka, Kansas, and Chicago, Illinois. In 1905 he founded The Chicago Defender with an initial investment of 25 cents. The Defender, which was once heralded as "e;The World's Greatest Weekly"e;, soon became the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country, and made Abbott one of the first self-made millionaires of African American descent. Abbott also published a short-lived paper called Abbott's Monthly. He died of Bright's disease on February 29, 1940, and left the paper in the control of his heir and nephew, John Henry Sengstacke.

John Henry Sengstacke was born on this date in 1912. He was an African American publisher of Chicago's Black newspaper, Chicago Defender. The newspaper was founded in 1905 by Sengstacke's uncle, Robert S. Abbott, and had a strong voice in Chicago's African-American communities. The Chicago Defender was a widely read black newspaper. At the time, it had a circulation of about 25,000.
John Sengstacke was born in Savannah, GA. At a young age, John worked for the Woodville Times, which was owned by his grandfather and later his father Alexander Sengstacke. John's uncle, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founded The Chicago Defender in 1905 and was the publisher. He trained his nephew John to be heir of this newspaper.
John’s uncle paid for his education at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he graduated in 1934. It was then that he became Vice President and General Manager of The Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company. In 1940, Robert Abbott died and John Sengstacke inherited his uncle’s newspaper.
He also founded the Negro Newspaper Publisher Association in 1940, now known as the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). In 1956, he took The Chicago Defender from a weekly to a daily publication.
The paper's Bud Billiken Parade, which marches through the South Side each August, has grown to become one of the nation's largest African-American community celebrations. John Sengstacke also owned the Courier newspapers of Pittsburgh and Miami and the Chronicle of Detroit.
John Sengstacke died May 28, 1997, in Chicago.

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Reference:
Black Heroes of The Twentieth Century
Edited by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1998 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
ISBN 1-57859-021-3


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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