This Day In History: May 5th
With over a century’s worth of publications, the Chicago Defender has made its mark as a leading source of news for African-Americans. Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded the Chicago Defender on May 5, 1905, and initially operated out of an apartment.
The format of the first issues consisted of four-pages with six-column handbills. It informed readers of local news events and began to attract a larger audience within five years of its first publication. Abbott was able to begin the newspaper with an initial investment of 25 cents and a press run of 300 copies.
More than two-thirds of the audience base was located outside of Chicago by the beginning of World War I. The Chicago Defender was able to utilize its influence to successfully promote “The Great Migration,” during the war. The campaign sought to encourage African-American’s to leave their lives in the South behind in exchange for the opportunities of the North. The city of Chicago saw an increase of more than 100,000 African-Americans with the promotion of the great migration.
The Chicago Defender was also an advocate for stopping voter suppression, access to equal employment and fair housing. It also took a bold stance and reported on the controversial topic of lynching. The Chicago Defender published stories on lynching when other newspapers would not. The newspaper had a weekly circulation of over 100,000 and even became banned from several cities in the South. Despite being illegal for some areas of the South, the popularity and impact of the Chicago Defender continued to grow.
By the 1940s, the Chicago Defender experienced a change in ownership with the death of Robert Abbott. He died of Bright’s disease and left all control to his heir and nephew, John Henry Sengstacke. Ultimately, the content of the newspaper remained the same and it continued to support anti-lynching legislation, advocated for integrated sports, encouraged desegregation of the armed forces and pushed for desegregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1956, the Chicago Defender began publishing on a daily basis. Nearly a decade later, Stengstacke purchased a variety of other newspapers including The Pittsburgh Courier, Michigan Chronicle and Tri-State Defender (Memphis). Sengstacke remained publisher of the Chicago Defender until his death in 1997.
Over the years the Chicago Defender has won numerous awards and now operates as an online publication, where it continues to be a celebrated news avenue for African-Americans.