Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Photo of Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Robert S. Abbott

Robert Sengstacke Abbott (24 Nov 1870 – 29 Feb 1940), an African American, was a lawyer, newspaper publisher, and an early adherent of the Bahá’í religion in the United States.  Abbott is the founder of The Chicago Defender newspaper which grew to have the highest circulation of any black-owned newspaper in the country.  In 1929 he founded the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, a social organization which developed in Chicago as a celebration of African-American culture.


Robert Sengstacke Abbott, LLB (1870–1940), in his role as founder and editor of The Chicago Defender, gave widespread publicity to Baha’i race relations ideals and efforts to counter America’s racial crisis by addressing its root causes, welling up from the deep-seated racial animosities and disparities that persisted in the aftermath of American slavery and institutionalized by Jim Crow laws. Alain Leroy Locke, PhD (1885–1954) promoted ideal race relations, both nationally and internationally, and was directly involved in the Baha’i ‘Race Amity’ movement. Ironically, despite their common cause and the fact that both were adherents of the Baha’i religion, Locke and Abbott moved in different professional circles and social worlds, and had little contact with each other.[1]

Baha’i Faith

“As early as 1924 the Baha’i Faith won a degree of allegiance from [Robert Sengstacke] Abbott that resulted in his being included, with his wife, Helen, in the Chicago Baha’i community membership list. Abbott’s interest led him to seek and read many Baha’i books and continued to inspire him until at last he became a Baha’i during the 1934 National Baha’i Convention.  On Sunday, 3 June, the final day of that Convention, held in Foundation Hall at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, those assembled witnessed a touching and impressive incident.” Dr. Bagdadi described the event a few days later in a letter to Shoghi Effendi: “Just before the closing of this Convention, speaking on the subject of publicity, I happened to think of Dr. Abbott, publisher of a newspaper in Chicago. I mentioned how I succeeded in publishing Baha’i articles on the first page of his paper. As I finished this statement, someone in the audience shouted, “Dr. Abbott is now here with us.” The Delegates expressed their desires to hear a word from him, and he responded by declaring his faith in the Baha’i Cause! This was one of the happiest moments in the Convention.”  Ref.: A Door to the Masses, by Mark Perry, p.5.

Mapping The Stacks

A Guide to Black Chicago’s Hidden Archives

Robert Sengstacke Abbott – The Chicago Defender

Dates: 1847-1997. Size: 179 linear feet. Accession #2007/06. Chicago Public Library, Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature.

Graduate Thesis

A Door to the Masses.  By Vander Voort, Henry C.  (Graduate Student, 1970) – Loyola Univ., Chicago

Newspaper Article

A Door to the Masses.  By Mark Perry (1995)

A Study

The Baha’i ‘Race Amity’ Movement.  By Christopher Buck


[1] Baha’i Studies Review, Volume 17 © Intellect Ltd 2011 Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/bsr.17.3/1.  The Baha’i ‘Race Amity’ Movement and the Black Intelligentsia in Jim Crow America: Alain Locke and Robert S. Abbott.  By Christopher Buck, Pennsylvania State University

Photo Credits:
Chicago Public Library
Creative Commons

Robert Sengstacke Abbott's 1956 Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago, Illinois

1956 Bud Billiken Parade

Harry S. Truman, John H. Sengstacke (R. Abbott’s son) and Richard J. Daley at the 1956 Bud Billiken parade. The parade was first held in 1929 and was named after the fictional editor of the Defender’s children’s section. Children could apply to be members of the Bud Billiken club, and editors took turns writing Billiken’s weekly column. Novelist Willard Motley served as the voice of Bud Billiken as a teenager. When David Kellum became editor of the Billiken page in 1927, he, along with Abbott and Lucius Harper, developed the idea for an annual Defender-sponsored parade. The first annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic took place in 1929. By mid-century the annual parade was one of the largest gatherings of African Americans in the United States.  -UIC Special Collections and University Archives


John Sengstacke inherited the papers of Robert Sengstacke Abbott upon Abbott’s death in 1940. Beginning in the 1940s, he separated many of Abbott’s papers and some of his own papers and housed them in a location apart from the files of the Chicago Defender. After the Defender moved to 2400 South Michigan Avenue, John Sengstacke housed the materials in the building’s “tower,” in space to which only he controlled access. Those separately housed papers, both Abbott’s and John Sengstacke’s, were willed to Robert A. Sengstacke upon John Sengstacke’s death in 1997. The inventory of John Sengstacke’s assets listed these archival materials separately, and the probate judgment awarded them to Robert A. Sengstacke. He inherited the papers of Myrtle Sengstacke separately after her death in 1990. On May 30, 2007, Robert A. Sengstacke donated the family papers to the Chicago Public Library.

Find A Grave Memorial

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Robert S. Abbott – Find A Grave Memorial# 8215138

Robert Sengstacke Abbott Family Home

4900 S Martin Luther King Dr, Chicago, IL 60615, USA

The home of Robert Sengstacke Abbott in Chicago, Illinois

Robert S. Abbott House
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark

Robert Sengstacke Abbott Family Home

The Robert S. Abbott House stands on Chicago’s South Side, on the same block that features the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Its construction date is not known, but is estimated to be about 1900 based on its architectural style, which is a combination of Late Victorian and neo-Classical elements. The combined units share a hip roof, with that on the left featuring a large projecting gabled section two bays in width. To its right is a single bay, set next to the entrance to the adjacent unit, while the left unit’s entrance is sheltered under a separate side porch on the left side. The porch has a limestone balustrade, with piers rising to Ionic columns supporting its roof. The interior, which has been further broken up into separate living units, retains some of its original grandeur.  -Wikipedia

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