The ‘Defender’ was founded on May 5, 1905 by Robert S. Abbott and by the beginning of the Great War in 1914 was the United States’ largest and most influential black weekly newspaper.
Distributed often illegally by Pullman porters across the country, the Defender campaigned for black people to migrate from the South to the North and was highly successful, tripling the black population in Chicago and other major cities in the North and Northwest.
Abbott's nephew, John H. Sengstacke, took over the paper in 1948. During Sengstacke's early tenure, he influenced President Harry S. Truman to integrate the Armed Service, and in 1948, Truman issued an order to end segregation in the military. Sengstacke also played a key role in the initial election of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley by influencing Chicago's Republican Congressional member William L. Dawson to become a Democrat. He did and Daley received nearly 90 percent of the Black vote assuring his election. Black voters in Chicago have been voting Democratic ever since.
Sengstacke is also credited with integrating many of Chicago's major city government departments including the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Fire Department and the Board of Education.
He is also responsible for the appointment of James B. Parsons to the federal bench, the first Black Federal Judge appointed since reconstruction. For more than two decades until his death, Sengstacke was named one of the nation's most influential Black leaders by Black Enterprise Magazine.