John Sengstacke was a newspaper publisher who once owned the largest chain of Black publications in the country. The Savannah, Ga. native was born November 25, 1912.
Sengstacke was groomed for the newspaper business, working as a boy alongside his father, Alexander, for “The Woodville Times,” and his uncle, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder of “The Chicago Defender.”
Abbott financed his nephew’s college education at his alma mater, Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University. Sengstacke worked as his uncle’s assistant, then moved to became the VP and general manager of Abbott’s publishing company. When Abbott passed in 1940, Sengstacke inherited the “Defender” and became its president and editor, serving in the roles until his death in 1997.
The same year Sengstacke moved to his new post, he founded the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which still exists today representing over 200 Black newspapers. The NNPA operates Black Press USA, a news wire service.
Sengstacke was also active in civil rights and fought vigorously for a strong Black press. When “The Pittsburgh Courier” was on its last legs financially, Sengstacke purchased the paper and revived it as the “New Pittsburgh Courier” while also naming Hazel B. Garland as its editor-in-chief, making her the first Black woman to hold the title for a major paper.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Sengstacke with the Presidential Citizens Medal.