The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. Within ten years the weekly had become the most influential Black newspaper in the United States. It was a great source of fuel for the Great Migration and campaigned for anti-lynching legislation. It offered unrivaled coverage of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Today, digital archivists for the black legacy press are teaming up with Google Arts & Culture to ensure that the Defender’s journalism is preserved for many years to come.
The digitalization of the defender is all part of a larger project. The plan is to digitize the archives of Black newspapers from all over the country. Included on the list of newspapers are the Dallas Post Tribune, the Washington Informer, the Afro American and many others.
This project came about when Angela Ford, founder of the “Obsidian Collection” was looking through the archives of the Defender for articles of her grandmother who was a 1950’s business woman often featured in the paper. When Ford found the archives were deteriorating, she felt compelled to do something. Angela Ford then founded the Obsidian Collection to start digitizing the images for everyone to use.
This would soon turn into a collaboration with Google Arts and Culture last year. Since then work has progressed and now there are eight free and searchable exhibitions now live on the digital collection. The Defender’s collection of photographs alone totals 250,000, capturing an in-depth historical record of Chicago life by black photographers for a black audience.
The work continues and soon these digital collections will include vast quantities of photos and articles relating to all aspects of the Black experience in America. Housing these archives on a Google platform will not only preserve precious documents, but also make them easily accessible to a large audience.