Meet Robert Sengstacke Abbott, a remarkable American lawyer, newspaper publisher, and editor, born on November 24, 1870, on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Growing up in a time of profound societal shifts, his life was bound for the extraordinary.
In 1905, Abbot unveiled the Chicago Defender, a newspaper that would later boast the highest readership among all black-owned newspapers nationwide.
Then, in August 1929, Abbott, a trailblazer of the Bahá’í Faith in the U.S., initiated the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape.
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.
The Early Years of Robert Sengstacke Abbott:
Born on December 24, 1870, Robert Sengstacke Abbott entered the world to parents who had once been slaves before the American Civil War, their freedom achieved. His birthplace was St. Simons, Georgia, although some sources propose Savannah, Georgia as an alternative. The Sea Islands, home to the Gullah people, an African-descendant ethnic group, served as a cradle of cultural preservation, where echoes of inherited African traditions resided more resolutely than among many other African Americans across the Southern United States.
Tragedy struck Robert’s family during his infancy, as his father, Thomas Abbott, passed away. Subsequently, his mother, Flora Abbott, a widow, found love anew in the arms of John Sengstacke. John, hailing from Germany with a mixed racial heritage, had recently arrived in the United States, marking the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
Robert Sengstacke Abbott: Journey of Learning
Driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, Robert Sengstacke Abbott embarked on his educational journey. He perfected his intellectual abilities during his time at the Hampton Institute and subsequently at the Kent College of Law. These educational experiences laid the foundation for his forthcoming achievements.
The professional path of Robert Sengstacke Abbot
Striving to build a legal profession, Abbott made endeavors in Gary, Indiana, and Topeka, Kansas, over several years. After a period, he journeyed back to his Georgian roots before eventually returning to Chicago. There, he witnessed the transformative impact of the massive influx of migrants from rural Southern areas.
The Chicago Defender
Among Abbot’s exceptional achievements, the creation of the Chicago Defender stands out as a groundbreaking feat. This publication emerged as a potent voice for African Americans, wielding significant influence in shaping public opinion and championing social justice through its unwavering journalism and resolute advocacy.
Through its courageous reporting and unyielding commitment, the Defender provided a beacon of hope for marginalized individuals in the Southern regions. It achieved this by recounting the experiences of those who had previously migrated North, showcasing their stories and encouraging others in the South to follow suit. Abbot utilized the pages of the Chicago Defender to share these narratives, actively promoting what he termed “The Great Northern Drive,” with May 15, 1917, earmarked as the pivotal day for this movement.