Linda Sengstacke

By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — The name Linda Taylor Sengstacke was synonymous with the Black Press in the 1970s and ‘80s. She was the editor-in-chief of the Tri-State Defender during that time and followed the tradition of attacking issues head-on without fear or favor, an approach to journalism that was encouraged by her uncle-in-law, John H. Sengstacke, who founded the Defender in 1951.

Mrs. Sengstacke was married to John H. Sengstacke’s nephew, Herman Fredrick Sengstacke, a photojournalist. On Sept. 9, she died peacefully at their home in Bristol, Penn., after a long illness. She was 67.

“Linda was committed to whatever she was doing and was always helping somebody,” her husband said. The Sengstackes were married 33 years, but spent a total of 40 years together.

She was the quintessential journalist and a crusader for justice, said Herman Fredrick Sengstacke, recalling a headline story of a man who was allegedly drugged and killed his father. 

“Linda wrote a story and the man got off,” he said. “The lead story was ‘I Didn’t Know I Killed My Father.’” 

Mrs. Sengstacke’s contributions to the newspaper can be found in the Defender’s archives and remembered by the people who knew her as a bona fide journalist. 

“She was fearless,” said her sister-in-law Ethel Sengstacke, who once worked at the Defender as a photojournalist. “She researched her stories and was fair and balanced. She sought the truth.”

She said Mrs. Sengstacke wanted to know the truth about “Voodoo Village,” an eerie compound in the Westwood community. Her cousin, Thomas Maurice Sengstacke Picou, “challenged us to go down to Voodoo Village.”

Picou was John H. Sengstacke’s nephew and a widely respected, award-winning journalist from Chicago. Sensing their apprehension to investigate Voodoo Village, she said Picou responded in jest, “You supposed to be journalists.”  

“So we went down to a dead-end street,” she recalls. “I turned the car around so we could get out. Linda said she wanted to talk to this man; he was the leader. He told us he was going to put a curse on us.”

 Strange people were encroaching upon them, Ethel Sengstacke said. “So I got in the car and it wouldn’t start. We finally got it started and got the hell out of there.”

The Defender had been a family operation with creative input from Picou, whom Mrs. Sengstacke esteemed. After he died in 2014, she told a reporter, “Tommy taught me everything I know about the newspaper business.”

She often referred to Picou as her mentor.

Mrs. Sengstacke was just as fond of her immediate family and friends. “She treated me like a daughter,” said Michele Lucas, a niece. “I talked to her every night. She was family-oriented.”

The consensus is Mrs. Sengstacke was a tough journalist. However, Lucas pointed out this about her aunt: “You weren’t going to get over on her. She’d bark at you, but would help you with anything.”

“She was always a good aunt to everybody,” added Christine Shane, Mrs. Sengstacke’s sister from Texas and the only sibling left. “When we were kids, she was the busiest of eight of us.”

Shane said life for Mrs. Sengstacke began at 1616 Monsarrat St. in a small brick home in South Memphis. It was the family home headed by their parents, the late Mamie and James Taylor Sr.

Mrs. Sengstacke attended St. Augustine Catholic School and graduated from Father Bertrand High School in 1970. She left there and matriculated at the former Memphis State University.

Mrs. Sengstacke held a couple of jobs before fate led her to The Tri-State Defender, Memphis’ premier black newspaper. “She was the first female editor of the paper,” her proud husband said.

A memorial service for Mrs. Linda Taylor Sengstacke is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at Joe Ford Funeral Home, 1616 Winchester Rd., Memphis, TN 38116.