All That’s Black: Robert Sengstacke Abbot

Robert Sengstacke Abbot, writer, publisher, editor:

“No greater glory, no greater honour, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived.”

Born in St. Simmons, Ga, to freed parents, Robert’s father, Thomas Abbott, died while Robert was still a baby. His mother, Flora, met and married John Sengstacke, an American of mixed race who’d come to the US from Germany. Robert, who was a year old at the time Flora met and married John, was given the middle name Sengstacke as a mark of his belonging in the family.

Robert grew up with a family that believed in education, and studied the printing press at Hampton Institute (now University) and went on to earn a law degree from Kent College of Law. Abbott initially tried to set up a law practice, moving to several states, including Indiana and Kansas, before settling in Chicago and founding the Chicago Defender newspaper, with a beginning investment of 25 cents (about 7 dollars in 2019).

He wanted to push for jobs and social justice, encouraging Black people to leave the segregated Jim Crow south and relied heavily on railroad porters to distribute his paper. In 15 years, Robert’s circulation had reached 200,000 people, using the railroad porters exclusively. The Defender became the most widely circulated Black newspaper in the country and is credited with contributing to the Great Migration of Blacks to the northern cities of the United States.

Its success resulted in Abbott becoming one of the first self-made millionaires of African-American descent. The Defender told stories of earlier migrants to the North, giving hope to disenfranchised and oppressed people in the South of other ways to live. Abbott, through his writings in the Chicago Defender, expressed those stories and encouraged people to leave the South for the North. The Chicago Defender not only encouraged people to migrate north for a better life but to fight for their rights once they got there. The slogan of the paper and the first goal was “American race prejudice must be destroyed”.

Without Abbott’s creative vision and drive, many of the Black publications of today—such as Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise, and Upscale—wouldn’t exist.

By Aprille’ Morris & Emily Burke

Edited By Keshav Kant

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