Profile: Robert A. Sengstacke (1943-2017)

Robert Abbott Sengstacke also known as Bobby Sengstacke, was an African-American photojournalist during the Civil Rights Movement for the Chicago Defender in Chicago, Illinois. Sengstacke was well known for his famous portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent civil rights leaders. Sengstacke inherited the family-owned Sengstacke Newspaper Company. After retiring from journalism in 2015, Sengstacke moved to Hammond, Indiana where he lived until his death due to a Respiratory illness in 2017 at age 73.

Early life and education

Born in 1943, Robert A. Sengstacke was the product of the Sengstacke family newspaper business legacy in Chicago. He was the son of John H. Sengstacke and Myrtle Sengstacke. Sengstacke resided for most of his life in Chicago. For elementary education, Sengstacke attended the University of Chicago Lab School, Manumit School in Bristol, Pennsylvania and Howalton Day School in Chicago. Sengstacke attended Hyde Park High School (now Hyde Park Academy High School) and later graduated from Central YMCA High School in 1962.Sengstacke took over his family business later on in his life.


Sengstacke started work at the age of 16 at his family’s newspaper business, working small jobs. Sengstacke then went to school in Los Angeles, California, and began photographing Black sororities and fraternities. He returned to Chicago to take part in documenting the Black Arts Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. Sengstacke went on to work for the Muhammad Speaks publications, Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley, and as the cast photographer for Oscar Brown Jr. Productions. He became the editor and publisher of Memphis Tri-State Defender from 1974 until 1989. Shortly after, Sengstacke became President of the Sengstacke Newspaper and the Chicago Defender.

Chicago Defender

The Chicago Defender was a newspaper for African Americans founded in 1905. The newspaper was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. Abbott’s nephew, John, was Sengstacke’s father, and was the previous owner before his passing in the late nineties. Robert A. Sengstacke inherited the newspaper upon his father’s death. Sengstacke took the newspaper from a weekly to daily newspaper in the United States.[2] The paper was a voice for African Americans all around. He went on to control the newspaper for six decades. He also purchased newspapers like, the Michigan Chronicle, the Tri-State Defender, and the New Pittsburgh Couriers. He was active in promoting Black Culture and advocating for civil rights in his paper. He is remembered for his generosity to young photographers and his commitment to the African American Community. Throughout the years that he ran the newspaper, he took on a number of roles. He acted as the Defender’s promotions and Marketing Director, Special Events and Fundraiser for the Bud Billiken Parade, and becoming the editor and publisher of the Memphis Tri-State Defender. His photography that was featured in the Defender, like portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is critically acclaimed nationally and internationally. The Chicago Defender was eventually sold to a company called Real Time but the Chicago Defender maintained a charity now ran by Sengstacke’s daughter My Sengstacke.

Personal and death

Sengstacke fathered six children and had been married twice, First to Veela Gonzalez with whom he had four children; Saief, Myiti, Omhari, and Hasani Sengstacke. Sengstacke later married Jacquelyn Spencer and together they had two children, Domenic and Jasmine Sengstacke. Sengstacke and Spencer were married at the time of his death. Sengstacke died on March 7, 2017, in Hammond, Indiana. Sengstacke was suffering from an extended respiratory illness. His memorial service took place at the Logan Center of Arts on the University of Chicago Campus in his hometown of Chicago.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s