News, Obituaries

Robert Abbott Sengstacke

A member of the family that founded and once owned the Chicago Defender


By Frederick H. Lowe

Robert Abbott Sengstacke, son of John Herman Henry Sengstacke, owner and publisher of the Chicago Defender, died Tuesday following a long illness. He was 73.

Bobby Sengstacke
Bobby Sengstacke

Robert, who was called Bobby by friends, worked as a photographer for the Chicago Defender, and Muhammad Speaks, the official newspaper of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam. Sengstacke was the first non-Muslim photographer to work for Muhammad Speaks. He also worked as a photographer for other newspapers owned by Sengstacke family. He later became editor of the Chicago Defender and president of Sengstacke Newspapers.

During his long career, Sengstacke photographed prominent African Americans, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Amiri Imamu Baraka.

His black and white photo compositions “Spiritual Grace” and “Saviour’s Day” are included in the “We Shall Overcome: Photographs from the American Civil Rights Era” exhibit.

The traveling exhibit was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Sengstacke was one of seven photographers who documented the African-American struggle for equality between 1955 and 1968.

His work also appeared in most Black Arts Movement anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s. Getty Images sold his photographs and his work was exhibited in Germany, in other parts of the world and at the Daley Center in Chicago’s Loop.

I purchased a photo from Bobby Sengstacke of James Brown and Muhammad Ali riding in a Cadillac convertible during the 1966 Bud Billiken Day Parade, an annual back-to-school parade founded by the Chicago Defender after seeing it at the Daley Center. The photograph hangs on my office wall.

Bobby Sengstacke
Bobby Sengstacke

John Herman Henry Sengstacke was the nephew of Robert Sengstacke Abbott, who founded the Chicago Defender on his landlady’s kitchen table in 1905, according to the 1955 biography “The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott,” by Roi Ottley.  Abbott built the Defender into a nationally known newspaper. Sold by Pullman Porters, the Chicago Defender encouraged blacks to leave the South and move to the North where there was work. Myiti Sengstacke Rice, Bobby’s daughter, wrote “Chicago Defender,” a book about the newspaper that was published in 2012.

Bobby Sengstacke was born May 29, 1943, in Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago Lab School, Howalton Day School in Chicago, and Hyde Park High School, also in Chicago. He graduated from Central YMCA High School in Chicago.

He attended Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., for three years before returning to Chicago.

He is survived by his wife, Jacquelyn Sengstacke and their two children, Domenic and Jasmine. He is also survived by his first wife, VeeLa Sengstacke-Gonzales and their children, Omhari, Hasani and Myiti.


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