Robert Abbot, the St. Simons Racial Reformer
An important part of St. Simons Island’s history, as well as the history of racial equality in America, was played by the Island-born native named Robert Abbott.
Characterized as “the Lonely Warrior” by the biographer Roi Ottley, Robert Abbott was born on St. Simons Island in 1868 to former slave parents. He attended Hampton Institute in Savannah, and when he came of age he journeyed north to the city of Chicago with only twenty-five cents and a dream.
That dream came to fruition in the form of the first black newspaper, The Chicago Defender. He began printing out of his boardinghouse—and his landlady encouraged him to do so. As the story would have it, he later bought her an 8-room house in his gratitude to her. The paper reached a circulation of 50,000 by the year 1916, and nearly 200,000 by the 1920s. His newspaper is considered to have encouraged the Great Migration of rural blacks to the Chicago area for more lucrative job opportunities.
As a journalist and lawyer, Abbott pioneered seeking voice and justice for people of color in the United States through his journalism and his activism, and his whole life was devoted to reforms leading to racial equality.
The Fort Frederica grounds houses an obelisk that honors his aunts, Celia Abbott and Mary Abbott Finnick, as well as his father, Thomas Abbott. It was for his hard work in striving for equality, and bringing a voice to fellow black stories, that he was thus the feature of Roi Ottley’s biographical narrative.
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