The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, an African American lawyer and entrepreneur. Abbott was born in 1870 in Georgia, and would go on to study printing at the Hampton Institute in Virginia between 1892 and 1896. Following his graduation he moved North to attend the Kent College of Law in Chicago, and received a law degree from that institution in 1898.
Upon graduating, Abbott spent a number of years attempting to establish himself in the legal profession, working in Gary, Indiana, and then Topeka, Kansas, before returning to Georgia. However, opportunities for Abbott to develop his career as a lawyer remained fleeting. Frustrated, Abbott returned to the Windy City, where he switched his attentions to the field of publishing. In 1905, his publishing career began with the first issue of theChicago Defender: a four-page, six-column folded sheet which Abbott had cobbled together at a card table set up in the room he rented from Henrietta Lee at 3159 South State Street.
Robert Abbott, circa 1927. Image courtesy of Wikimedia
As Myiti Sengstacke Rice notes, during the newspaper's early years Abbott was a 'reporter, editor and newsboy, selling his paper door-to-door in barbershops, pool halls, churches and clubs.'
For a while Abbott attempted to maintain a professional front by renting a small office, but financial limitations meant that he quickly moved the headquarters of his publishing enterprise into his rented accommodation at 3159 South State Street. Aided by the patronage of his landlady Henrietta Lee, Abbott's newspaper would eventually expand to encompass the entire apartment.
3159 State Street would be absorbed into the expansion of the IIT campus during the 1940s. Today on the ground where the former home of theDefender stood is the McCormick Tribune Campus Center, featuring its iconic 'L' train station pictured above.
developed with generous support from