Facing South

Remembering civil rights leader James Armstrong

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james_armstrong_and_students.jpgWhen participants in the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. and were beaten by state troopers, Army veteran and marcher James Armstrong fell to his knees -- but he never dropped the American flag he was carrying.

That March 1965 incident came to be known as Bloody Sunday and helped ensure passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act.

This week Armstrong died of heart failure in Birmingham, Ala. He was 86.

The Birmingham News reports:

On Wednesday the barbershop he ran for more than 50 years was locked, with a "for sale" sign on the door. But signs of its life -- decades of it -- were apparent from the sidewalk. On the door was a faded message: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." And next to that: "If you don't vote, don't talk politics in here."

Running his own business allowed Armstrong to take part in civil rights demonstrations without worrying about repercussions from his employer. He ended up being jailed several times for his efforts to end Jim Crow.

Armstrong also played a key role in the desegregation of Birmingham's school system, initiating a class-action lawsuit in 1957 so his children could attend an elementary school previously reserved for whites. Two of his sons became the first black children to attend Graymont Elementary.

Born in 1923 in Dallas County, Ala. to a farming family, Armstrong was drafted into the Army after high school and spent two years fighting in Europe during World War II. When he returned to Alabama, as his son Dwight Told the Birmingham News, "he knew God had a plan for him."

Armstrong kept the flag that he carried that historic March 1965 day in his home in Birmingham's College Hills community. He was also a longtime volunteer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

(PHOTO: In a snapshot taken earlier this year, a group of Michigan students studying civil rights history stand with Armstrong in front of his Birmingham barbershop. The photo originally appeared in the Muskegon News.)

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re: Remembering civil rights leader James Armstrong

Grandpa was a remarkable man and I'm glad that you all had a chance to know him and what he stood for. Realizing that he sacrificed a lot for the Civil Rights Movement, I understand that I have a duty to continue his mission. God bless you all and please help keep his memory alive.

Darren W. Armstrong
dwarmtsrong3@yahoo.com

re: Remembering civil rights leader James Armstrong

On behalf of the nieces and nephews of the Late James Armstrong.Rest in Peace!! A true soldier,we have always admired our uncle.Our hearts are heavy now but still remain proud of you.Memories of you will be cherished forever.From:Sons and Daughters of the Late Dollie M.Armstrong Jackson

re: Remembering civil rights leader James Armstrong

As one of his (illegitimate) sons, I grew up knowing about my pops commitments to "The Civil Rights" struggle. Instead of segregation being loud and on blast as in the past, its at a personal listening level now (only heard by those trying to hear it). After finding out what Pops stood-up for, It gave my life direction! By Mother(Ella Mae Evans Hill)being a minister, it makes my torch scorch the sun!
Even after his existence, experiencing "segregation" now from the ones thinking that; people knowing about his "outside kids" who didn't make it to Graymont Elementary in the 60's, would taint his flowers. This ordeal really has me questioning people of importance!
Even though he wasn't the "young folks barber" I wanted when I was getting my haircut, he gave me a style that no other barber in the world could hook me up with!
-Good Going Pops! I Love U Like U Love That 225 U Drove!