Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of Black America.
Robert S. Abbott founded The Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated South, and was dubbed a "Modern Moses," becoming one of the first Black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper’s clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for The Defender’s support. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King.
Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen’s clubs to do their jobs, from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama.
"An extraordinary history...Deeply researched, elegantly written...A towering achievement that will not be soon forgotten."
"Conscientiously researched and fluent, The Defender is essentially a record of the African-American struggle in our times."
"Engagingly written and copiously sourced, Michaeli's stimulating read...offers general readers and scholars alike a focused look back at twentieth-century battles against America's pervasive racism."
"Michaeli's epic, meticulously detailed account not only reminds its readers that newspapers matter, but so do black lives, past and present."
"A captivating read."
"Tackles an enormous swath of American history in his thorough, painstaking account of the newspaper's rise to prominence...Michaeli has obviously put a considerable amount of care into the research and crafting of this important history. A pertinent, well-fashioned American success saga."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"This prodigiously researched work is a testament to the courage of Defender writers through the century, a chronicle of the influence of an important institution-and a sweeping history of black America."
— National Book Review
"A fascinating account of the legendary black newspaper that spoke truth to power, fought for equality, and made history."