On November 25, 1912, in Savannah, Georgia, John Herman Henry Sengstacke was born to Herman Alexander and Rosa Mae (née Davis) Sengstacke. The baby was named after his paternal grandfather, a Congregationalist minister and educator of Woodville, Georgia. The elder John H. Sengstacke also was a publisher of two Black newspapers, including the weekly Woodville West End Post. He would marry Flora Butler Abbott, a widow and mother of a one-year old son, Robert. Abbott hailed from St. Simon’s Island, Georgia and had been formerly enslaved. John and Flora would have seven children, including Herman Alexander, who was called by his middle name.
Descending from a long line of Protestant ministers, Reverend Alexander Sengstacke also worked as an educator because he wanted to help Blacks improve their lives; Rosa served as a missionary in the Church.
John H.H. Sengstacke was reared with his two brothers and three sisters near Woodville. As a young boy, John H.H. Sengstacke was very interested in the work his father, Alexander, performed at the family’s newspaper, the Woodville West End Post. Thus, his father mentored him and John worked his way from being a printer’s apprentice to chief assistant to his father.
His uncle, Robert Abbott, who had been given the surname “Sengstacke” as his middle name to illustrate his membership in their family, noticed his nephew’s keen interests and deep commitment to his father’s paper. John’s passion and dedication moved Abbott to name John as his successor to his own newspaper, The Chicago Defender, one of the most popular and successful Black-owned newspapers in the United States.