Wednesday, February 14, 2018

#PHNBlackHistoryMonth: Robert Abbott





Robert Abbott

The story of the pioneer of the black press involves slaves, Nazis and 25 cents.
Born just five years after the end of the Civil War, Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded a weekly newspaper, The Chicago Defender, one of the most important black newspapers in history, in 1905. Without Abbott, there would be no Essence, no Jet (and its Beauty of the Week), no Black Enterprise, no The Source, no The Undefeated.

The success of The Chicago Defender made Abbott one of the nation’s most prominent postslavery black millionaires, along with beauty product magnate Madam C.J. Walker and paved the way for prominent black publishers such as Earl G. Graves, John H. Johnson and Edward Lewis.

The son of slaves, Abbott grew up with a half-German stepfather whose relatives eventually joined the Third Reich during the 1930s. Ironically enough, young Robert was taught to hate racial injustice, despite encountering it at every turn in his life, from his early foray into the printing business to his time in law school in Chicago, all the way to religious institutions.

An alum of Hampton University (then named Hampton Institute), Abbott was a catalyst for the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century, when 6 million African-Americans from the rural South moved to urban cities in the West, Northeast and Midwest, with 100,000 settling in Chicago. Like a politician promising tax breaks to out-of-state companies to inspire relocation, Abbott took it upon himself to lay out the welcome mat for the millions of blacks abandoning the Jim Crow South to head to the Windy City, where manufacturing jobs were awaiting as World War I approached.

What started off as 25 cents in capital and a four-page pamphlet distributed strictly in black neighborhoods quickly grew into a readership that eclipsed half a million a week at its peak, numbers that mirror the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel today. The paper’s rise in stature and circulation was due in large part to Abbott being a natural hustler. The Defender was initially banned in the South due to its encouragement of African-Americans to abandon the area and head North, but the Georgia native used a network of black railroad porters (who would eventually become the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) to distribute the paper in Southern states.

After the influx of blacks in the Midwest following the Great Migration, Abbott and The Defender turned their attention to other issues afflicting blacks in the early 20th century, including Jim Crow segregation, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and the deadly 1919 Chicago riots that mirrored recent-day demonstrations seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Abbott’s nephew, John H. Sengstacke, took The Defender over in the 1940s, eventually heading black newspapers in Detroit and Memphis, Tennessee, and the historic Pittsburgh Courier. – Martenzie Johnson

Source: The Undefeated
Reactions:

0 comments:

Post a Comment