The Chicago Defender is celebrating its 114th Anniversary on May 5. It was founded on May 5, 1904, by Robert S. Abbott.
The newspaper was influential during The Great Migration when Blacks from the South came to the North. It documented multiple firsts, including the election of Mayor Harold Washington, first Black Mayor of Chicago; President Barack Obama, first Black president of the United States; and Lori Lightfoot, first Black female mayor of Chicago.
Dr. Haki Madhubuti is the chief executive officer and founder of Third World Press Foundation. He grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the Chicago Defender was theBlack newspaper in Chicago. It depicted Black life and told Black stories.
“Chicago Defender is one of our great, great media outlets,” he said.
Madhubuti had poems published in the paper and also sold the newspaper when he was young.
“The Defender was critical in terms of civil rights,” Dr. Haki said. “It was the only Black paper published daily. For us, it was social media.”
Madhubuti said the Defender, EBONY and JET were major vehicles in the Black community. “You had the Sengstackes with the Defender and John H. Johnson with the other two,” he said.
Madhubuti said he and Bobby Sengstacke were contemporaries — Sengstacke as a photographer and Madhubuti as a writer. They were both involved with the Wall of Respect.
“Bobby had his photographs published in the Defender and all across the country,” he said.
Madhubuti said the Defender was not only significant in Chicago but also across the country and the world. As he traveled, Madhubuti said he would look for black newspapers.
“We had a non-compromising outlet for Black ideas,” he said. “Those ideas were in concert with Black leadership and the community.”
Madhubuti said the Chicago Defender had a national reach.
“The Defender represented our communications vehicle,” he said. “I have a deep respect for the accuracy and cultural consciousness.”
Perri Irmer is the president and chief executive officer of the DuSable Museum. Irmer said she grew up reading copies of the Defenderat her grandmother’s house.
“To us, the Defender offered the “real news,” not just the news as reported in the majority papers, which often didn’t cover issues important to the Black community. If they did, it was from a viewpoint, not our own,” she said. “These were our stories and we must continue to support the Defender to preserve the integrity of Black journalism, which we know is especially critical in today’s troubling times.”
Irmer said there is a reason why the newspaper has lasted so long.
“The Defender has always represented excellence in journalism and has been supported by the Black community as a cornerstone and vanguard publication,” she said. “We are fortunate that its leadership has adapted to the modern market to stay relevant, but we must also be diligent in our support so as not to ever lose this important resource.”
Irmer reflected on the newspaper’s impact on the Black community, locally and across the country.
“Robert Abbott played such a pivotal role in our city’s, and our nation’s, history — encouraging southern Blacks to flee Jim Crow and move to Chicago — that I see him as being almost as important as Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the founder of our city,” she said. “If not for Abbott and the Chicago Defender, we would not have been the primary northern destination during The Great Migration, and Chicago may not have become the center point of Black accomplishments, businesses, creativity and leadership. The roles he, and later John Sengstacke, played were essential to so much of our advancement and success as a community.”
Irmer added, the Chicago Defender has been about telling the stories of Black people in “our own voice.” “And, bringing to the forefront those issues that are paramount to the best interest of the Black community. And now, more than ever, this message must be carried forth,” she said. “The Chicago Defender and the DuSable Museum represent two of the most important organizations and missions for our community, and we are proud to partner with the Defender at every opportunity, to inform and educate ourselves and others. Our voices must be heard [and] our stories told accurately and truthfully as only the Defender, and publications like it, can ensure.”