Remembering Famed Photographer Robert “Bobby” A. Sengstacke

(Chicago, IL – Chicago Defender Charities, Inc.)

Robert Abbott Sengstacke, affectionately called “Bobby,” an award-winning photojournalist and one of America’s foremost photographic artists passed away on March 7, 2017 after a long illness. Sengstacke captured the famous and the infamous, saints, sinners, kings and common men alike. His photographs have received national as well as international recognition and acclaim. Sengstacke’s work is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, now part of the New York City Public Library system is a repository of 50 of Sengstacke’s King photographs and 20 of the Nation of Islam. His photos featuring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been exhibited at the Statue of Liberty.

Stanford University’s History Department selected 100 of Sengstacke’s photos that were used to chronicle the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sengstacke’s works have been exhibited several times at The Smithsonian Institution; The DuSable Museum of African American History, The Museum of Science of Industry, Spellman College, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Circle Campus the University of Illinois Urbana campus and the University of Minnesota. Additionally, he maintained a video production company that produced over 50 mini documentaries.

His photographs and profiles have appeared in LIFE, Ebony, Jet, Essence, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Houston Post, The Chicago Tribune and Spike Lee’s School Daze as well as his photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King that was featured on the set of Patti LaBelle’s TV sitcom Out All Night.
The New York Times in 1987 during a review of his work defined him as “one
of the most significant photographers of the Civil Rights generation.” Sengstacke stated, “My journey of self-discovery encompassed a desire to achieve a sense of contentment in reaching a plateau of success.” This journey would take him on a quest that would lead him to become the Chicago Defender’s head photographer and editor, Muhammad Speaks first non-Muslim staff photographer; Artist-in-residence at Fisk University; General Manager and Publisher of the Memphis Tri-State Defender; Photo assignments for Eastman-Kodak Co., and photographer for the Phil Donahue Show.

Sengstacke is noted as the first African-American photographer from Chicago to have a major exhibition to appear in Chicago’s Loop at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library in 1969. Currently his work is part of an exhibit in that same building, now the Chicago Cultural Center. The exhibit is entitled; “The Wall of Respect: Vestiges, Shards and the Legacy of Black Power.”

Robert Abbott Sengstacke represents the fourth generation in his family to excel in the area of print, journalism and entrepreneurial pursuits. He began freelancing as a photojournalist covering assignments for the youth section of the Chicago Defender. He later served as President of Sengstacke Newspapers and was a former editor of the Chicago Daily Defender. “This is a tremendous loss for the Black Newspaper and Arts community. Bobby personified the power of the arts and its influence on Politics Business and Leadership in Black Chicago and beyond. He was a colleague as well as family and he will be truly missed.” Colonel Eugene Scott, Former Editor of the Chicago Defender Newspaper and Former President of the Chicago Defender Charities.

For nearly sixty years, Robert’s father, John H.H. Sengstacke, was the owner and Publisher of the Chicago Defender Newspaper founded in 1905 by Robert’s grand uncle, Robert Sengstacke Abbott. The Abbott/Sengstacke family is the originator of the Bud Billiken Parade founded in 1929 by Robert S. Abbott and the Chicago Defender Charities founded by John H.H. Sengstacke in 1945, who led the Charities for more than 50 years until his passing in 1997.
Robert Abbott Sengstacke was born May 29, 1943 in Chicago IL. He is survived by his wife, Jacquelyn Sengstacke and their two children, Domenic and Jasmine, his first wife, VeeLa Sengstacke-Gonzales and their children Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, Omhari and Hasani. Their oldest son, Saief made his transition in 2009. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law Shantella, his grandchildren, Imani, Malahni and Montrel and a host of loving family members and close friends.

About the Bud Billiken Parade

The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is held on the second Saturday in August to celebrate the beginning of a new school year for students nationwide. Rain or shine, celebrities, dignitaries and the community support the festivities along Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago. Notable past participants are: President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Lena Horne, Michael Jordan, Frank Thomas and Muhammad Ali. The parade is experienced by over 1.7 million people live and on television. More information is available at

About the Chicago Defender Charities

Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. is a non-profit charitable organization founded April 2, 1945, whose purpose is to improve the quality of life for African-Americans through a variety of educational and philanthropic programs.
Media Inquiries
Kristal Davis 312-307-4840,


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