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Robert Abbott founded Chicago Defender in 1905

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Black History Month highlights of prominent African Americans and important events.

Despite receiving a law degree from the Kent College of Law in 1898, Robert S. Abbott (1870-1940) could not practice his profession because of racial barriers, but he could still defend people. The son of former slaves founded the Chicago Defender newspaper in 1905. His paper famously waged war against racial prejudice and injustice. Listing jobs and even train schedules, the Defender became a primary figure in the Great Migration of blacks to the northern states. With an initial investment of 25 cents, Abbott became one of the first African-American self-made millionaires.

The Defender was carried by Pullman porters throughout the South. Its paid circulation reached 130,000 by 1919.

Abbott co-founded the Bud Billiken Club with Defender managing editor Lucius Harper. He also launched and led the annual parade. On Feb. 29, 1940, Abbott died as a result of Bright’s disease.

Matt Wilhalme

Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Metro Chicago Almanac, the Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago, and

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