Georgia native Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded, edited, and published the Chicago Defender, for decades the country’s dominant African American newspaper. Through the pages of the Defender, Abbott exercised enormous influence on the rise of the black community in Chicago, Illinois, and on national African American culture.
Family and Education
Abbott was born on November 24, 1868, on St. Simons Island to Flora and Thomas Abbott. Abbott’s mother was born a slave in Savannah in 1847 to Portuguese west African parents. Her father, Robert S. Abbott Jacob Butler, a skilled craftsman, purchased his family’s freedom. Abbott’s father, likely of Ebo ancestry, came from a line of house slaves and was majordomo of a planter’s household. He died when Abbott was an infant. Hostile to Flora for her “inferior” extraction, the Abbott clan sued for custody of the infant. John H. H. Sengstacke, a German newly arrived in Savannah, hired a lawyer who represented Flora successfully.