Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers

Institution: Chicago Public Library - Carter G. Woodson Regional Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60628
Phone: (312) 747-6900
Date: 1847-1997
Extent: 179 Linear Feet
Finding Aid

Biographical/Historical Note:
Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1868-1940) was born in Frederica, St. Simon's Island, Georgia to former slaves. After his father's death in 1869 his mother Flora moved to Savannah, Georgia and married John H. H. Sengstacke. In 1889, Robert enrolled in Hampton Institute's printing trade program and later earned a bachelor's degree. Frustrated by racial discrimination he moved to Chicago and founded the Chicago Defender in 1905. He used his paper to speak out against racial injustice and support equal opportunities for African Americans. The paper's success made Abbott a millionaire. In 1939 he ceded control of the paper to his nephew John Sengstacke. John embarked on a mission to expand the paper, building the largest black-owned newspaper chain in American history. At the peak of his career, Sengstacke controlled three major communications enterprises: Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company, Sengstacke Enterprises, and the Amalgamated Publishers. One of Sengstacke's greatest accomplishments was the creation of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, later renamed the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He founded or served on the boards of numerous organizations. Sengstacke married Myrtle Picou in 1939.

Scope and Content Note:
The papers trace the Abbott-Sengstacke family history from the mid-19th century in Georgia through Abbott's move to Chicago and creation of a journalistic empire, to the death of Sengstacke in 1997. The papers are arranged in three superseries: Robert Abbott, John Sengstacke, and Myrtle Sengstacke. Extensive documentation of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Michigan Chronicle, Provident Hospital, and the political history of Chicago is included. The papers feature correspondence, manuscripts, organizational and subject research files, biographical materials, programs, clippings and memorabilia. A large collection of photographs will be opened in late 2009.

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