John H. Sengstacke was an African-American newspaper publisher and owner of the largest chain of black newspapers in the country. Sengstacke published and managed several papers including the Michigan Courier in Detroit, the Tri-City Defender in Memphis, and the New Pittsburgh Courier. Sengstacke used his platform and influence champion civil rights, push for integrating the armed forces and to create opportunities for African-Americans in the newspaper business.
Sengstacke was the designated heir of his uncle Robert Sengstacke Abbott and he inherited the Chicago Defender in 1940 after his uncle’s death. The Chicago Defender was considered the most influential African American newspaper in the early to mid-20th century. Soon after he took over at the Chicago Defender, Sengstacke founded the National Newspaper Publishers Association. His goal was to unify and strengthen African-American owned papers. Sengstacke served seven terms as president of the association.
Sengstacke received several Presidential Appointments during the Administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. He worked with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure African-American reporters were admitted to presidential press conferences.
In 1974, Hazel B. Garland made history as the first African-American woman to be managing editor of a national newspaper after Sengstacke appointed her as the new editor-in-chief of the New Pittsburgh Courier. Under Garland’s leadership the paper won the John B. Russwurm Award for the best national African-American newspaper.
In 2000, Sengstacke was posthumously presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton.
The Ellison for Congress team salutes John H. Sengstacke for forging a path for African-American reporters to achieve new levels of notoriety and success.