FOUNDER OF THE CHICAGO DEFENDER * 1870–1940
In 1905, Robert Abbott started the Chicago Defender, one of the most important black newspapers in history, with just twenty-five cents (the equivalent of about seven dollars today). What began as a weekly four-page pamphlet distributed in the city’s black neighborhoods quickly grew into a national publication with a readership of more than half a million.
The success of the Defender made Abbott, the son of former slaves, into one of the nation’s most prominent black millionaires and paved the way for other successful black publishers.
At the Defender, Abbott encouraged the Great Migration, in which six million African Americans fled the poverty and racially motivated violence of the South for new lives in the West, Northeast, and Midwest. Many of them settled in Chicago, where manufacturing jobs were opening up as World War I approached.
Abbott was a natural hustler, which helped his reputation and the paper’s circulation. When the Defender was initially banned by white authorities in the South because it encouraged African Americans to abandon the area and head north, Abbott, who was born in Georgia, used a network of black railroad porters to surreptitiously distribute the paper in southern states. His legacy lives on today in black publications such as Essence and Black Enterprise.