The life, accomplishments and death of Robert Sengstacke Abbot, the founder Chicago Defender


Robert Sengstacke Abbot, who was an American Lawyer, newspaper publisher and editor, was born on November 24, 1870, at St. Simons Island, Georgia. He was raised during a period of significant social change, and the course of his life was destined to make history.

The Chicago Defender, which Abbot launched in 1905, eventually had the biggest circulation of any black-owned newspaper in the entire country.

In August 1929, Abbott, a pioneer of the Bahá’ Faith in the United States, established the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic.

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The parade in Chicago, Illinois, is the second largest in the country and has evolved into a celebration of youth, education, and African-American culture.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot: Early Life

Abbot was born on December 24, 1870, to freedman parents who had been slaves before to the American Civil War in St. Simons, Georgia (although some sources indicate Savannah, Georgia).

The Gullah people, an ethnic group of African descent, lived in the Sea Islands, where they preserved African inherited cultural elements more firmly than many African Americans in other parts of the South.

When Robert was a toddler, his father Thomas Abbott passed away. Robert’s widowed mother Flora Abbot then fell in love with and wed John Sengstacke, a man of mixed-race and origin who had just moved to the US from Germany.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot: Education

Robert Sengstacke Abbot started his quest toward study and self-improvement because of a hunger for information. He developed his intellectual skills while attending the Hampton Institute and later the Kent College of Law, setting the groundwork for his future successes.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot: Career

Abbott attempted to establish a legal practice while working in Gary, Indiana, and Topeka, Kansas, for a number of years. For a while, he traveled back to his home in Georgia before returning to Chicago, where he could observe the changes brought about by the influx of thousands of new migrants from the rural South.

Chicago Defender

The establishment of the Chicago Defender, a ground-breaking publication that would become a powerful voice for African Americans, was one of Abbot’s most remarkable accomplishments. The newspaper was significant in influencing public opinion and promoting social justice because of its fearless reporting and steadfast advocacy.

The Defender provided downtrodden and disenfranchised people in the South with hope by sharing the experiences of prior migrants to the North. Through his articles in the Chicago Defender, Abbott shared these tales and implored people to migrate from the South to the North. He even designated May 15, 1917, as the day when what he named “The Great Northern Drive” to occur.

Baháʼí Faith

Abbott first came into contact with Abdu’l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá’i’ Faith, in 1912 when covering one of his talks in Chicago while traveling through the West. Abbott and his wife were noted as going to Chicago Bahá’i’ activities by 1924.

Abbott founded the Bud Billiken Club after creating the fictitious “Bud Billiken” with David Kellum for articles in the Defender. Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic was started in 1929 by Abbott and Kellum. African Americans began to use it as a reason to celebrate their ties and sense of pride.

Abbott officially joined the Baháʼí Faith in 1934.

Contributions to Civil Rights Movement

In the Civil Rights Movement, Abbott played a crucial role in challenging the status quo and promoting a more just society. His efforts not only educated the public but also inspired people to speak out against inequity and discrimination.

Net Worth and Accomplishments

Robert Sengstacke Abbot’s accomplishments were incalculable, even though his net worth could not be determined only by money. His accomplishments as a trailblazing journalist, activist, and civic figure solidified his reputation as a genuine change-maker.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot: Final Years and Death

In Chicago, Abbott passed away in 1940 from Bright’s disease. In Blue Island, Illinois’s Lincoln Cemetery, he was laid to rest. John Henry Sengstacke, his nephew, was given possession of the newspaper by his will.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How did Robert Sengstacke Abbot’s upbringing influence his career?

Due to his background as the offspring of former slaves, Abbot was exposed to the difficulties encountered by African Americans. This background sparked his interest in social change and motivated him to promote equality through his activism and journalism.

What role did the Chicago Defender play in the Civil Rights Movement?

The Chicago Defender was essential in the Civil Rights Movement because it exposed racial injustices, fought for equal rights, and raised the voices of underrepresented groups. People were motivated to take up the cause of a more equal society by its bold reporting.

What is the legacy of Robert Sengstacke Abbot?

The legacy of Robert Sengstacke Abbot is one of valor, tenacity, and unshakable commitment to social justice. His efforts continue to motivate those pursuing equality and constructive change in both individuals and movements.


Robert Sengstacke Abbot’s life serves as an example of the transforming potential of one person’s commitment and determination. Abbot’s legacy endures as a beacon of inspiration and optimism, from his formative years to his groundbreaking journalism and campaigning. His dedication to justice, equality, and advancement is a constant reminder that each of us has the ability to have a significant impact on the world.

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