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The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  297 ratings  ·  75 reviews
“An extraordinary history…Deeply researched, elegantly written…a towering achievement that will not be soon forgotten.”Brent Staples, New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Amazon

Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and
ebook, 288 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin (first published February 4th 2014)
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There is something emblematic of American culture that a former white, male reporter who worked for The Defender in the 90s is chronicling its contribution. Please don't mistake that as criticism. Michaeli has written a wonderful, affecting, meticulously researched, and rich history told with admiration and tremendous respect. Listening to The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America was like taking a tour of 20th Century American history from a different and unique vantage ...more
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, history
"When you face prejudice, fight it and fight it hard."
I have to admit that before reading this book, I don't remember ever really hearing about the Chicago Defender, and yet throughout the last century, The Defender has acted as more than simply a voice for a marginalized group. Robert Abbott created the newspaper with a mission in mind: particularly after the Atlanta riots of 1906, he saw that a new voice was needed to act as "Defender of his race,". For over a century, The Defender has been a
Porter Broyles
This may well be my favorite history book ever and I tackle a lot of history. What makes the book so good is a subtle genius that is probably under appreciated. This is probably the longest review I have written, but I hope you read it through.

Before I go on, I think it is important to share something about myself. I am a middle-aged, white moderate conservative. A few years ago, I started reading Civil War history as it was a pivotal moment in America. From there I started reading more about
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Originally published at Reading Reality

The story of The Defender is really multiple stories. It is a history of America in the 20th century, as seen through a slightly different lens than the one many of us were taught in the history books. And because of that lens, because of the audience that The Chicago Defender was built by and for, it is also the history of Black America in the 20th century. And all of that from the focal point of Chicago, where The Chicago Defender was based and from which
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Despite a few issues I have with the editing of this book -- Louis Armstrong did not play the "coronet;" the word "obdurate," if used at all, should not be used more than once -- I was thoroughly engrossed by the contents. Having previously read "The Warmth of Other Suns," I was interested to learn what an important role the "Chicago Defender" newspaper played in inspiring the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. In fact, beginning with its foundation in 1905, there was ...more
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew. This book was super long. I would say it was a comprehensive history and it is quite interesting and informative. I would not recommend reading it straight through; reading it in between other less meaty books was ideal for me.
Sean O
Jun 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story of the Chicago Defender is really the story of the civil rights movement in Chicago. Robert Abbott and John Sengstacke built the Chicago Defender to document the destruction of race hatred. I'm not sure race hatred is destroyed, but the changes that occurred go far beyond the modern accepted narrative of Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr.

The story goes all the way to the 1893 Columbian Exposition and on the way we meet Frederick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod
Leah Rachel von Essen
The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli is a hefty book to take on. A crucial history text, it chronicles the history of black newspaper The Defender and in doing so, chronicles as well the histories of many black historical figures (from boxer Jack Johnson to pilot Bessie Coleman) and their relationship with the paper; the presidential and mayoral elections; civil rights movement events; and much of the history of black Chicago.

I think the expansiveness
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-black
I’ve never read a book over 400 pages that I didn’t think was too long, and this book is no exception. Not that a reader should have any problem making it to the end, although I would not recommend trying to read it straight through. Contents wise, it’s a conscientious look at both the most influential black newspaper of the 20th century and the lives of black Americans during that century. For those who like to read about newspapers, it’s a thorough study of a paper that started off in a ...more
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is as close as anyone will get to chronicling the birth, life and impact of Chicago's unparalleled Black newspaper--The Defender. I've read many recent books on Chicago history but this is the missing piece . You can marvel at Chicago's architecture, music, politics and all the other things that put Chicago in the first rank of great cities. Without the story of the Defender, its role in the Great Migration, its visionary founder (Robert Abbott) and its coverage of over 100 years of Chicago ...more
Josh Brown
Jan 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
The last paragraph of the book: "Working at The Defender allowed me to see the truth about America, that 'race' is a pernicious lie that permeates our laws and customs, revived in each generation by entrenched interests that threaten to undermine the entire national enterprise, just as it is challenged in each generation by a courageous few who believe that this nation can truly become a bastion of justice and equality. And now that I know the truth, I am compelled to try to correct our mutual ...more
Vannessa Anderson
I grew-up reading The Defender newspaper. The Defender (unlike the Times and the Tribune that focused on news that happened in non-minority communities) was the go to newspaper that kept us informed on what was going on in Black communities. The Defender How The Legendary Black Newspaper Changed American provided a chronological event-by-event of History. Thank you author Ethan Michaeli for providing us with a book that we can use for learning and a book we can use for research.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting story, and I learned a lot. My only complaint is that some big events were skimmed (or not covered at all), and I was really interested in knowing how the Defender covered them.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This outstanding, thoroughly researched and superbly written book recounts a century of the lives of black Americans through its history of The Defender, the influential and iconic Chicago black newspaper that encouraged the Great Migration, chronicled and supported the Civil Rights Movement, and demanded the equality for black citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.

Michaeli tells this broader American history primarily through the story of Robert S. Abbott, who founded The Defender in 1905 at
Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You
i enjoyed the "unscholarly" writing style of this book, and that is not meant in any way as a demeaning commentary, just an opinion that reflects the book's casual air and comfortable reportage... i would argue with the base tenet of the book, that it changed America... maybe from SUPERRacist to MOSTLY Racist, but that is a distinction not worthy of note... surely, The Defender speaks much more loudly to black America than White America, since White America had thousands of newspapers to support ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn’t intend for the reading of this book to coincide with Black History Month, but it ended up being an entirely timely read, in more ways than one. This was a good, if extremely broad, history of the struggle for equal rights as seen through the political orchestrations as well as the personal stories from 1905 to the modern day. One of the reasons I picked this up was because I was curious about what role The Defender had played in Obama’s election—the front flap says that the author “ ...more
Linda Gartz
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A deeply researched book on the role that the legendary black-owned and read newspaper, "The Defender" had in speaking out for African Americans and against the injustices they suffered. Written with a story-teller's voice, the incidents described are chilling. I loved learning more about Ida B. Wells (after whom was named high-rise public housing in Chicago. And that's about all most people, at least whites, know of her). Michaeli describes Well's escaper from slavery to become a reporter on ...more
Ethan Michaeli gives the Chicago Defender the biography it deserves. Well-written and definitive, this book chronicles the founding by Robert Abbott and it's rise to prominence in American-American communities throughout the country. Abbott used his platform to encourage the Great Migration, becoming "Black Moses" in the process. The Defender pushed for the desegregation of the military and was part of the process in switching the African-American electorate from Republican to Democrat.

I had
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a treasure, but at 536 pages, not to be undertaken lightly. The story of the Chicago Defender, the legendary black newspaper which spanned most of the 20th century, is really a course in American and particularly black American history.

What a story -- peopled with strong and visionary men and women who chronicled and called out injustice and outrage and reported on the shattering events of Jim Crow segregation and the Great Migration from the South to the industrial North. The
Mar 05, 2019 added it
Solid history that weaves local Chicago history with national events as viewed by one of the most influential black newspapers in the country. It provided a critical balance to mainstream news reporting allowing readers to better understand how these events affected the African American community.
Jan 12, 2018 added it
Terrific book. This book not only tells the story of a great black newspaper; it's also a good introduction to African American history in the 20th c.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf-club, nonfiction
Great history of black Chicago
Jason Josephes
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic history of the black press and America

I really enjoyed this book, and it opened my eyes to the beginning of the African American press. It's also a history of America, but given the topic and focus, how could it not be?
Maggie Heim
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I didn’t want to put it down. It starts with Frederick Douglass inspiring a young Robert Abbott in 1893 in Chicago. It then follows Abbott as he creates and builds The Chicago Defender. The early history of the newspaper was particularly interesting and wonderful to read about. When the mainstream (and white) papers would not cover or would inaccurately cover southern lynchings and injustice, the Chicago Defender helmed by Abbott fought past economic and social ...more
Mike J Kerr
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb window into African-American history. The words of the newspaper are a dramatic reflection of specific historic events in the experience of Blacks, particularly in Chicago. Incidentally, the 1919 Chicago Race Riots, which are covered, are approaching their 100th anniversary
Ron Willoughby
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully researched, powerfully written story. The history of the other Chicago, the other newspapers business, the other ordinary heroes, who lived with courage and resilience throughout the 20th Century. This is a history of Chicago, civil rights since 1893, and a little newspaper that started with a worn out typewriter on a kitchen table.

I so recommend this book.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent story of America's & Chicago's 20th century history through the story of the Chicago Defender. Covers black migration, change from republican to democratic support to army integration to Obama.

Can't recommend strongly enough.
Beverlee Jobrack
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a well researched, fascinating history of the late 19th and 20th centuries in a biography of Chicago's The Defender newspaper. It puts the history of African Americans following slavery through Obama's presidency in context and perspective, so you can understand how Civil Rights have evolved. Highly recommend this book.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A study of the Africa American Newspaper 'The Defender' in Chicago, Illinois. A truly inspiring story of the Abbott/Sengstacke publishing family.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Different and very nicely done take on an important aspect of the African American experience. Interesting and epic. A 4.5.
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ETHAN MICHAELI is an award-winning author, publisher and journalist with twenty years of experience in Chicago’s inner city. He was a copyeditor and investigative reporter at The Chicago Defender from 1991-1996.