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Unit Four. Week Four, 6/20. 400 Souls: Reflecting on a Community History of African America.

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Teach Out Gathering Time

Sunday, June 20. 5:00-7:00pm PST

Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294

400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america

week four


we convene in honor of Robert Sengstacke Abbott

born just five years after the end of the Civil War, Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded a weekly newspaper, The Chicago Defender, one of the most important Black newspapers in history, in 1905. Without Abbott, there would be no Essence, no Jet, no Black Enterprise, no The Source; in fact, many Black press outlets would not exist.

the success of The Chicago Defender made Abbott one of the nation’s most prominent Black millionaires, along with beauty product magnate Madam C.J. Walker. he paved the way for prominent Black publishers such as Earl G. Graves, John H. Johnson and Edward Lewis.

an alum of Hampton University (then named Hampton Institute), Abbott was a catalyst for the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century, when six million Black Americans moved from the rural South moved to urban cities in the West, Northeast and Midwest, 100,000 settling in Chicago. Abbott took it upon himself to lay out the welcome mat for the millions of Black people abandoning the Jim Crow South to head to the Windy City, where manufacturing jobs were awaiting as World War I approached.

what started off as 25 cents in capital and a four-page pamphlet distributed strictly in Black neighborhoods quickly grew into a readership that eclipsed half a million a week at its peak, numbers that mirror the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel today. the paper’s rise in stature and circulation was due in large part to Abbott' work. The Defender was initially banned in the South due to its encouragement for Black people to abandon the area and head North. Abbott, a Georgia native, used a network of Black railroad porters (who would eventually become the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) to distribute the paper in Southern states.

after the influx of Black people in the Midwest following the Great Migration, Abbott and The Defender turned their attention to other issues affecting Blacks in the early 20th century, including Jim Crow segregation, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and the deadly 1919 Chicago riots that mirrored recent-day demonstrations seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Abbott’s nephew, John H. Sengstacke, took The Defender over in the 1940s, eventually heading black newspapers in Detroit and Memphis, Tennessee, and the historic Pittsburgh Courier.

we dedicate this week's gathering and study in The Teach Out to the memory of Robert Abbott's life and work. may he rest in power.

*much of the above biography credited to Martenzie Johnson of The Undefeated.


our week four reading

four hundred souls: part four

pg. 111-145


our weekly provocations

1. Discussion questions for Four Hundred Souls, Part Four (below)

2. Interview with Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain about Four Hundred Souls, Democracy Now, February 2021 (13:35)



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