The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 28,373 black Americans with Armstrong as their last name. That represented 21% of the total of 135,044 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Armstrong in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Armstrong Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Armstrong ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 356 people named Armstrong who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 138 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 17,723 free citizens named Armstrong that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
4,174 people named Armstrong were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 618 as mixed.
There was a total of 32,240 people with the name.
Armstrong In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 8,210 people with the last name Armstrong as black within a total of 52,548 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 11,705 people named Armstrong as black within a total of 78,016.
Historic Black Figures With The Armstrong Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Armstrong as their last name.
- Born: 1941
- From: Lucas, Mississippi
The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on segregated buses in the South from 1961. They sat in mixed groups to challenge seating segregation.
If they weren’t arrested on the bus, they would disembark and sit in segregated cafes and terminals.
The activists endured violent arrests from local police who would also let gathering mobs attack them. Many of the Freedom Riders were young college students.
In 1959, Thomas Armstrong entered the historically black Tugaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. He had volunteered for NAACP activities in high school, so he naturally joined college groups that were protesting for voting rights and anti-segregation measures.
Thomas participated in sit-ins and voter registration drives in Jackson.
He volunteered to join the Freedom Riders in 1961 and was one of four participants on the first bus ride from Jackson to New Orleans.
All four were arrested in Jackson and jailed. Thomas was bailed out by the President of Tuglaoo College.
Thomas and his family were threatened by the KKK after these events. His mentor, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in 1963.
Thomas overcame a period of depression to continue working quietly for civil rights in Illinois.
Other freedom riders in the 1961
Thomas was one of the younger students amongst the freedom riders, but he wasn’t the youngest member. Hezekiah Watkins was just thirteen when he was arrested as part of the protests. Here are some of the other activists:
There was also a small but strong organizing team, including Johnnie Daniels Carr.
- Born: 1949
- From: North Carolina
- Died: 2018
Brenda Armstrong attended the segregated Booker T. Washington High School in North Carolina and then went to Duke University as one of their first black students.
Armstrong co-founded the student Afro-American Society and was a leader of what’s known as the Allen Building Takeover.
In 1969, sixty black students barricaded themselves into the Central Records Office in the Allen Building to protest discrimination on the campus.
After a day of negotiations with the college authorities, the black students left the building. But a supportive crowd of largely white students had gathered to confront the assembled police outside.
The police fired tear gas, with several arrests, and twenty students hospitalized.
Dr. Armstrong went on to become just the second black woman to qualify as a paediatric cardiologist.
Armstrong In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Armstrong surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Armstrong was in 1867. William Armstrong was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Hays, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1913. James Armstrong was a Trumpeter in the Tenth Cavalry.
You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Armstrong was for James Armstrong from Westmoreland County, Virginia. He enlisted in 1861 at Philadelphia when he was aged 24.
The record shows that James was assigned on January 1863 to the ship Brooklyn.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in 1864. Peter was aged 21 and was from Duchess County, New York.
He was assigned to the ship Heliotrope on January 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Engineer. His naval rank was 2nd Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
William Armstrong graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in September 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. William was from Providence, Rhode Island.