Robert Sengstacke Abbott: A black journalist who shaped America


Billy Nagy and Michael Russo

Robert Sengstacke Abbott had a significant impact on the black community as both a historical figure and advocate.  He was born on December 24, 1870, and died on February 29, 1940.  Throughout the course of his life, he put the black community first.  

One of his many accomplishments includes starting the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic.  This event is the largest African American parade in the United States that occurs in Chicago, Illinois once a year, in August.  The parade has happened every year in August, beginning in 1929, all the way up to 2021, continuing for the year 2022.  The only year that the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic did not happen was in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The parade was back in 2021 but in a much more “scaled down” version.  In 2006, the most attended year of the parade, approximately 1.2 million were in attendance, with about 25 million television viewers.  There were also 74,000 participants and 160 floats and vehicles in the parade in this specific year of the parade.

Additionally, he is best known for his work on the Chicago Defender, a newspaper that peaked in having about 500,000 weekly readers.  This newspaper was widely recognized as one of if not the first African American-run newspaper.  The Defender was initially marketed by Abbott going door to door promoting his work.  It later went on to greatly influence countless African American communities.

The Defender’s greatest achievement was inspiring the “Great Northern Migration.”  This migration happened after the Defender urged its readers to move north in order to pursue greater economic opportunity.  However, this didn’t go off without a hitch as the Defender was banned for its promotion of these ideals.

Abbott managed to work around the ban of his paper though.  He continued distributing his works by convincing railroad porters to carry his papers throughout the south.  From here, information from the Defender spread like wildfire and prompted the Great Northern Migration which led to greater opportunity for African Americans.

The Defender is Robert Sengstacke Abbott’s greatest achievement and made many advances in creating equality for African Americans.  He continues to be an example of the power journalism can hold over the public and a hint of what African Americans were capable of in a time in which they were incredibly oppressed.