The Chicago Defender, which was founded by Robert S. Abbott on May 5, 1905, once heralded itself as "The World's Greatest Weekly." The newspaper was the nation's most influential black weekly newspaper by the advent of World War I, with more than two thirds of its readership base located outside of Chicago. Abbott began his journalistic enterprise with an initial investment of 25 cents, a press run of 300 copies, and worked out of a small kitchen in his landlord's apartment. The first issues of The Defender were in the form of four-page, six column handbills and were filled with local news items gathered by Abbott and clippings from other newspapers.
During World War I The Chicago Defender waged its most aggressive (and successful) campaign in support of "The Great Migration" movement. This movement resulted in over one and a half million southern blacks migrating to the North between 1915-1925. The Defender spoke of the hazards of remaining in the overtly segregated south and lauded life in the North. Job listings and train schedules were posted to facilitate the relocation. The Defender also used editorials, cartoons, and articles with blazing headlines to attract attention to the movement, and even went so far as to declare May 15, 1917 the date of the "Great Northern Drive." The Defender's support of the movement, caused southern readers to migrate to the North in record numbers. At least 110,000 came to Chicago alone between 1916-1918, nearly tripling the city's black population.
In subsequent years The Defender provided first hand coverage of events such as the Red Summer Riots of 1919, a series of race riots in cities across the country. It campaigned for anti-lynching legislation, and for integrated sports. Its columnists included Walter White and Langston Hughes. It also published the early poems of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
In 1940 John H. Sengstacke, Abbott's nephew and heir, assumed editorial control and continued to champion for full equality. During that year, he founded and became the first president of the National Negro Publishers Association. Now known as the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the organization was established to unify publishers of African American newspapers across the country. On February 6, 1956, The Defender became The Chicago Daily Defender, the largest black-owned daily in the world. In 1965 Sengstacke purchased The Pittsburgh Courier, including it in his "Sengstacke Newspaper chain," along with such papers as The Michigan Chronicle in Detroit, and The Tri-State Defender in Memphis. John Sengtstacke served as publisher of The Defender until his death in May, 1997.
Drake, St. Clair and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1970, 1962, 1945.
Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Hughes, Langston. Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942-62. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Ottley, Roi. The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott. Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1955.
Tuttle, William M.. Jr. Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919. New York: Atheneum, 1970.
Washburn, Patrick S. A Question of Sedition: The Federal Government's Investigation of the Black Press During World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Doreski, C.K. "Chicago, Race, and the Rhetoric of the 1919 Riot." Prospects 1993 18: 283-309.
Kornweibel, Theodore Jr. "The Most Dangerous of All Negro Journals": Federal Efforts to Suppress the Chicago Defender During World War I." American Journalism 1994 11 (2): 154-168.
Presley, James. "The Birth of Jesse B. Semple." Southwest Review 1973 58 (3): 219-224.
Stovall, Mary Elizabeth. "The Chicago Defender in the Progressive Era." Illinois Historical Journal. Vol. 83, no.3 (autumn 1990): 159-172.
Strother, T. Ella. "The Black Image in The Chicago Defender, 1905-1975." Journalism History 1977-78 4 (4): 137-141, 156.
Alexander, Shawn Leigh. Marcus Garvey and the Chicago Defender, 1917-1923. University of Iowa, 1995.
DeSantis, Alan Douglas. Selling the American Dream: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919. Indiana University, 1993. 307 pp.
Ellis, Charlesetta Maria. Robert S. Abbott's response to education for African Americans via the Chicago Defender, 1909-1940. Loyola University of Chicago, 1994.
Graham, Darryl Eduard. The Chicago Defender: The Image of Black Women, 1915-1920. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1991.
Terrell, Martin Jackson. A Study of the Chicago Defender's "Great Northern Drive." Ohio University, June, 1991.
Williams, Linda Darnette. An Analysis of American Sportswomen in two Negro Newspapers: The Pittsburgh Courier, 1924-1948 and the Chicago Defender, 1932-1948. Ohio State University, 1987.