Born in Georgia in 1870 to former slaves, Robert Sengstacke Abbott studied at a missionary school in Savannah and later attended Hampton Institute to learn the trade of printing. In 1899, he earned a law degree from Kent Law School in Chicago, where he was the only African American in the class. After struggling to support himself as a lawyer, he borrowed a small amount of money and founded the Chicago Defender in 1905. In its early years, Abbott printed, folded, and distributed the newspaper himself. In its pages, he advocated for equality, social justice and job opportunities, and encouraged African Americans to leave the segregated Jim Crow South for Chicago. By 1929, the Defender had become the most popular Black newspaper in the country with a national circulation of 250,000. As a result of this success, Abbott became one of the first African American self-made millionaires. He died in 1940 and his house in Chicago has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Mentioned in the Bessie Coleman profile: