Journalism

Newspapers

What newspaper was known as “The World’s Greatest Weekly”?

Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870–1940) first published the Chicago Defender in 1905. On May 6, 1905, he established what he called “The World’s Greatest Weekly.” The Defender reached national prominence during the great black migration from the South during World War I, and by Abbott’s death, he had turned it into the most widely circulated black weekly. Abbott was born in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia; his father was of fully African heritage, while his mother was born in Savannah, Georgia. Abbott’s father died in 1869, and when his mother remarried, he added his stepfather’s name and became known as Robert Sengstacke Abbott. He studied at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Hampton Institute (later University), and Kent College of Law in Chicago. At Hampton, he focused on learning the printing trade, having worked earlier as an apprentice at the Savannah Echo. When he graduated from law school, as Robert Sengstacke Abbott. Abbott, he was the only African American in his class. At both Claflin and Hampton, Abbott, who was dark-skinned, was looked down upon by his lighter-skinned schoolmates; he was told by a prominent African-American lawyer that his complexion would be a disadvantage to him in the practice of law. These experiences influenced his decision to turn to printing. After he launched the Defender, the paper grew slowly, and Abbott had difficult financial years before the paper became a success. It became a full-sized newspaper in 1915, the first black newspaper to achieve this feat. In the beginning, Abbott’s paper was focused on the black masses. As time passed, he came to favor gradualism as the approach to racial progress and became more entrenched in the Chicago establishment. In 1929 he was the first to attempt publication of a well-financed black magazine, Abbott’s Monthly; the magazine survived until 1933. Abbott’s news and columns as published in the Defender established him as a major spokesman for blacks during his lifetime.



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