Welcome to the second issue of Bronzeville Life, highlighting great features, businesses, entertainment and ‘all things awesome’ in the city of Chicago. It’s a beautiful feeling to be a part of the next chapter in publishing carried by the fifth generation of an iconic media family.
Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded The Chicago Defender newspaper in 1905. The paper was often the first or only source for news within the Black community— utilizing the help of Pullman Porters to sneak bundles of papers on board the train routes in order to drop them over the rails along Southern towns.
During an era, which documented some of the worst racially charged incidents—resulting in the most massive relocation of Black Southerner’s to the North—The Chicago Defender influenced the Great Migration.
Robert S. Abbott’s nephew, John H. H. Sengstacke took over the reins when Mr. Abbott passed in 1940. In 1945, John Sengstacke established the Chicago Defender Charities to manage its outreach to the community. This included the continued production of the Bud Billiken® Parade, founded by Robert Abbott in 1929. For the past 89 years, the Abbott/Sengstacke family has produced the largest African American parade in the country and second largest parade outside of the Macy’s Christmas Parade in New York City. In 1945, Mr. Sengstacke also brought together African-American newspaper owners from around the country to form the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) in order to garner advertisement support. Today, NNPA boasts nearly 200 Black-owned publications in North America.
From working with President Franklin Roosevelt to admitting African American press to cover the White House, to advising Presidents, Truman and Kennedy on race affairs including affirmative action, openly desegregating the U.S. military, fighting for fair and affordable housing; and building a platform for some the most prolific writers of our time—Sengstacke sat at the helm of the Civil Rights movement. He was also instrumental in raising the funding to build the new Provident Hospital on Chicago’s Southside.
At one point, Sengstacke owned the largest Black newspaper chain in American history. This included the New York Age, the Michigan Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Tri-Defender in Memphis. His middle son, Robert “Bobby” Sengstacke was instrumental in elevating the Black Arts movement in the 1960s throughout the 1990s and managed various family businesses including the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, TN. He was most recognized in his illustrious career as a world-renowned photojournalist.
John H.H. Sengstacke passed in 1997 and in 2001, the group of publications was sold to Detroit-based Real Times Media. The family maintained ownership of its non-profit organization, The Chicago Defender Charities (CDC), newly renamed–Robert Sengstacke Abbott Foundation includes the Bud Billiken® Parade.
In January 2017, Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, the daughter of Robert Sengstacke and granddaughter of John H. H. Sengstacke was named the President and CEO of the organization—marking a new chapter in one of the oldest Black publishing families in the country.
Why is it essential to recount this information to our readers? For hundreds of thousands of Black families making the journey to Chicago—Bronzeville was often the only area we were allowed to reside. It was the community where Robert S. Abbott laid his roots; Ebony/Jet founder, John H. Johnson started the Negro Digest; Nat King Cole attended Wendell Phillips High School; Quincy Jones and Lorraine Hansberry ran the hallways of the Rosenwald Courts and countless others who designed the blueprint for modern Black America. It is our renaissance and historical DNA to Black Chicago.
We move forward with the creation of Bronzeville Life—a fresh viewpoint, fusing generations and showcasing our trends, culture, and entertainment throughout our community. It’s not about geography—it is about a lifestyle. It’s about the importance of controlling our narrative and raising our voices. Whether you reside in Chatham, North Lawndale, Kenwood, Auburn Gresham, Woodlawn, Englewood, Austin, Wicker Park, or in between—the content on our pages will reach far.
With the freedom of bringing unique opportunities and long-time relationships to the Robert S. Abbott Foundation brands—I’m proud to help execute the Sengstacke family vision as the Editor-in-Chief. Expect to read original content with substance and news that impacts how others positively perceive our culture.
I had an opportunity to check out the theatre production of “Stomp” in its Chicago opening night at the BroadwayPlayhouse, and it was PHENOMENAL. Bravo to the amazingly multi-talented eight-person ensemble cast of the global sensation from Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell, which first made its UK debut in 1992. Three decades later, with fresh faces and the next generation of dancers—it has not slowed down. Playing now through December 20, 2018.
For tickets, visit: www.broadwaychicago.com
Across town, playwright and director, Cassandra Belland Latrice Mosley-Smith will premiere “The Survivor’s Monologue” at Theatre 47 in Park Forest, Illinois on Feb.2, 2019. It gives a heart-wrenching personal account of domestic violence from survivors. For more information: www.hautehosiery.com
Speaking of Theater 47, John Ruffin opened the doors with his production of “Nativity” last weekend. After several years of producing successful productions to sold-out audiences— Chicago’s very own took the leap into becoming a theater owner. Visit: www.theater47.com
As we congratulate Ruffin on this huge mogul move, we must send our prayers and condolences to his family on the loss of his eldest son.
The Christmas holiday is considered a celebratory time, but for many, it will be a reminder of our loved ones who are no longer here with us. Rev. James Bass died on November 26. At 94, he was a beacon in the faith community and long-time stronghold on the Westside. It was at his church where he mentored and guided hundreds of members—young and old. Bronzeville Life would like to lift the Bass family and his son, Vince Bass—my friend in prayer and encouragement in this time of grief.
Follow my weekly column, visit: bronzevillelife.com and podcast, Global Mixx ‘The Workshop’ on SiriusXM HBCU 142 every Friday at 3 pm CST.