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Mon, 11.25.1912

John Sengstacke, Newsaper Publisher born

John Sengstacke

*On this date, in 1912, John Sengstacke was born.  He was a Black newspaper publisher.  John Herman Henry Sengstacke was born in Savannah, Georgia, to Herman Alexander Sengstacke and Rosa Mae Davis.  

He was named after his paternal grandfather, a Congregationalist minister, teacher, and publisher. The elder Sengstacke was the son of Herman Sengstacke, a white-German sea captain, and his wife Tama Melrose, a former slave from West Africa whose freedom he purchased in Georgia. She died after the birth of their daughter. Sengstacke returned to Germany, taking his mixed-race children for relatives to raise while he sailed.  Later, Sengstacke and his son returned to the US.  Several years later, John H. Sengstacke was ordained as a Congregationalist minister.

After settling in Woodville near Savannah, Georgia, he became a teacher and a publisher of two local newspapers, including the Woodville Times. Sengstacke had married the widow Flora Butler Abbott, a former slave from St. Simon's Island, Georgia. She had a year-old son, Robert, whom he treated as his own. Robert Abbott took his stepfather's surname as his middle name. The Sengstackes also had seven children together, including Alexander; they were half-siblings to Robert Abbott. Beginning in 1905, when Abbott had settled in Chicago after getting a law degree, he founded and published The Chicago Defender. It rapidly achieved high circulation in the early 20th century as the Black population expanded in Chicago and other northern cities during the Great Migration.

Abbott groomed young Sengstacke to take over the Chicago Defender, paying for his nephew's education at Hampton Institute, his alma mater, and an HBCU. Sengstacke worked on the Defender during the summers, graduating from Hampton in 1934. Abbott also subsidized his nephew's additional studies at the Mergenthaler Linotype School, The Chicago School of Printing, Northwestern University, and Ohio State University. Sengstacke became Vice President and General Manager of The Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company in 1936 after he had assisted as an aide.  In 1939, Sengstacke married Myrtle Elizabeth Picou, a Louisiana Creole from New Orleans and Los Angeles. They had three children: John Herman Henry Sengstacke III, Lewis Willis Sengstacke, named for Myrtle's side, and Robert Abbott Sengstacke, named in honor of his uncle.

Sengstacke was a civil rights activist and worked for a solid black press.  He founded the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 1940 to unify and strengthen black-owned papers. Sengstacke served seven terms as president of the association, which by the early 21st century had 200 members. Sengstacke also published the Michigan Courier in Detroit, the Tri-City Defender in Memphis, Tennessee, and acquired the Pittsburgh Courier in 1966, reopening it the next year as the New Pittsburgh Courier. 

Sengstacke worked with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to admit Black reporters to presidential press conferences. He pressed for opportunities in the United States Postal Service for African Americans. One of Sengstacke's major political goals was to desegregate the armed forces. President Harry Truman supported this goal, naming Sengstacke to the commission he formed in 1948 to integrate Black women into the military.  John Sengstacke died on May 28, 1997.

His chain of newspapers was run under a family trust until 2003. It was sold to Real Times, whose investors included people with family and business ties to him.  In 2000, John Sengstacke was posthumously presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by US President Bill Clinton.

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