The Sengstackes – A Savannah Lineage To The Black Press

Robert Sengstacke Abbott
Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Robert Sengstacke Abbott and his nephew, John H. Sengstacke, were pioneers and newspaper publishers who became giant legacies of The Black Press. Robert Sengstack Abbott was born on St. Simons Island, GA, and his nephew, John H. Sengstacke, was a native Savannahian. Robert’s mother, Flora Abbott , was widowed when she married John Sengstacke, a Congregationalist missionary. John founded the Woodville Times in Savannah where Robert was introduced to newspaper publishing by his step-father. Upon completing his degree at Hampton University where he studied the printing trade, he earned the juris doctorate (law degree) in 1898 at Kent College of Law in Chicago. After practicing law for a few years in Indiana and Kansas, Abbott made his way back to Chicago, and founded The Chicago Defender, the first Black daily newspaper in the country, known as”America’s Black Newpaper” because of its nationwide circulation.

John H. Sengstacke took over The Chicago Defender after the death of his uncle, Robert S. Abbott in 1940. As a young man, John worked with the Woodville Times in Savannah (founded by his grandfather John Sengstacke) alongside his father, Herman Alexander Sengstacke. His uncle Robert , noticed John’s skills and level of interest in his work at the Woodville Times. As a result, Abbott began to prepare young John to take over the Defender by employing him during the summers and paying for his education at Hampton University and the Mergenthaler Linotype School, The Chicago School of Printing, Northwestern and Ohio State Universities respectively. John H. Sengstacke was eventually appointed Vice President and Manager of The Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company. Upon the death of his uncle, John became owner, publisher and editor of The Chicago Defender. He expanded the publishing company to include the Michigan Courier (Detroit), the Tri-City Defender (Memphis, TN) and finally the Pittsburg Courier (PA). John H. Sengstacke founded the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade organization for black newspapers in 1940, and “…became the first African American newspaper publisher and owner of the largest chain of black newspapers in the country.” A historical marker designating the Savannah boyhood home of Robert Sengstacke Abbott was erected by the City of Savannah and the Georgia Historical Society in 2008. (Information credit: Wikipedia)

John H. Sengstacke
John H. Sengstacke

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