Born on St. Simons Island in 1868, the child of former slaves, Robert Sengstache Abbott grew up in nearby Savannah where he attended Hampton Institute. In 1905, with just twenty-five cents in his pocket, Abbott traveled to Chicago and founded the Chicago Defender, this nation’s first black newspaper. Through his powerful brand of progressive black journalism, Abbott became a prominent publisher and racial reformer.
Then, Robert Abbott’s influence and business acumen brought about the creation of The Chicago Defender. Abbott and his newspaper are credited with increasing the labor force in the north as former slaves and descendants looked for job opportunities outside the south. Delivered to southern communities by Pullmans on the trains, the paper served to unite an African American audience. Later Abbott placed an obelisk on property adjoining Fort Frederica National Monument to mark the origins of his family. Relatives of his also make St. Simons Island their home.
Never forgetting his family’s slave background, Abbott, by now a man of great wealth and influence, traveled back to St. Simons Island in the early 1930s. On the grounds of Fort Frederica he erected an obelisk honoring his father, Thomas Abbott, and two beloved aunts, Celia Abbott and Mary Abbott Finnick. For his often lonely struggles to bring positive change to the character of race relations in early 20th century America, author Roi Ottley characterized Abbott as “The Lonely Warrior," the title for Ottley’s 1955 biography of Robert S. Abbott.