news-category: Black History Month

Doug Armstrong, ’88, Excelled with Support of GWU’s Blind and Visually Impaired Program

black history month graphic

Alumnus Became a Lawyer to Protect People and Defend Their Rights

Doug Armstrong met his wife, Jackie, while working in Winston-Salem, N.C. They have a daughter, Jennifer.

Doug Armstrong graduated cum laude in 1988 from Gardner-Webb University. A student in the blind and visually impaired program, he had earned two degrees in mathematics and computer science with a minor in political science. Armstrong had planned to pursue a job in software engineering and development, but a revelation from his family history inspired him to take a different path. He decided to become a lawyer and use his analytical and problem-solving skills to protect people and their rights.

His hometown of McGehee is located in Arkansas’ Delta Region, which is one of the poorest areas in the state. When he was a junior, Armstrong discovered that his stepdad’s grandfather, a black farmer, was swindled out of his land. That’s when he vowed to make a difference. “I had been subject to and witnessed so many injustices, and I thought I don’t know what kind of impact I can make as a computer programmer, but I can make a better impact as a lawyer,” he reflected.

He was drawn to Gardner-Webb, because his high school wrestling coach and counselor had discovered that GWU offered a specialized program for the blind and visually impaired. Armstrong applied and received a presidential scholarship. With the program’s help and support, such as braille chapters of textbooks, student readers and recordings for the blind, he excelled in academics. “The biggest thing was the attitude of the professors,” Armstrong affirmed. “They weren’t going along because they had to, they genuinely wanted to help.”

One professor in particular, Paul Jolley, was explaining a calculus problem in class and could tell by the look on Armstrong’s face that he didn’t understand. In desperation, Jolley asked the person sitting behind Armstrong to trace the problem on Armstrong’s back. The tactic worked, and Armstrong used it in other classes.  

The Shelby Star wrote a story about Doug Armstrong and published this photo of him running with Coach John Haskins.

Armstrong received awards in political science and computer science and was recognized with a special award for his scholarship and participation in college activities. Armstrong played the alto saxophone and served as president of the band. He lettered in cross country and track, winning the Most Valuable Cross Country Runner Award. He ran with a guide runner, who was Assistant Basketball Coach John Haskins.

Armstrong also served as a senator to the Student Government Association, as a Big Brother, and as president of his class. He was president of the Math Club and vice president of both the Social Science Club and the Association of Computing Machinery.

Because of the support he received from everyone at Gardner-Webb, Armstrong has served on the advisory board for the University’s Noel Center for Disability Resources since 1989. “It’s a way of giving back when so much was given to me,” he affirmed, “And, it’s another way for me to remain connected to Gardner-Webb.”

After graduating from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1992, he passed the N.C. Bar Exam and was offered a job with the Legal Aid Society of North Carolina Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C. He specialized in housing, employment and consumer law. Gardner-Webb recognized him for his work as Young Alumnus of the Year in 1995.

Armstrong met his wife, Jackie, while working in Winston-Salem through a mutual friend who worked with her at Sarah Lee Knit Products. She received a promotion and the couple moved to Cincinnati for 14 years, and he continued to work in legal aid and private practice there. They moved back to the Concord area in 2012, when Jackie took a job with the American Red Cross. They have one daughter, Jennifer.

As a student of the law and history, Armstrong appreciates the celebration of Black History Month for several reasons. “It’s a time to recognize the key roles and contributions and sacrifices of African Americans and remember those who came before us,” he acknowledged. “We are reminded of what people went through so that we don’t take our civic duties lightly.”

His heroes encompass all of his interests. “I have so many—Thurgood Marshall is my most favorite. He was the first black supreme court justice and he argued Brown vs. Board of Education,” Armstrong related. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is another. He handled everything with non-violence. And Jackie Robinson; I’m a big sports fan. With all of these people, the thing that sticks out is the dignity and professionalism with which they conducted themselves.”

His list also includes Shirley Chism, the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives. She advocated for inclusion of black soldiers in War World II. In 1992, Barbara Jordan, another black female congressman, became the first black woman to give a keynote address before the Democratic convention.

He added that the celebration should recognize the contributions of white people—the preachers and journalists—who pointed out the wrongs and called for change. “Black History celebrates diversity,” Armstrong asserted. “It unites us. When we are focusing on contributions of blacks in the past, we can come together. It takes us beyond the history books. There are people and events that I’ve learned about over the years because of Black History Month that you never get in school.”

Isaac Murphy is one example. He was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times. Bessie Coleman, the first African American pilot, was known for her flying tricks. However along with the good stories, Armstrong said he’s also learned some bad and ugly history, like the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 where 35 city blocks of “Black Wall Street” were destroyed by burning, vandalism and violence. Over 800 people were treated for injuries, and an estimated 300 were killed because the color of their skin. There’s also Emmett Till, who went into a store to buy some candy, where a white shopkeeper accused him of flirting with her. Her husband and his brother abducted 14-year-old Till, and they tortured and murdered him. This death received international attention and is widely credited with sparking the American Civil Rights Movement.

Armstrong concluded, “You have to have it all to have the complete picture. It helps us to understand the importance of our story. When you look at how blacks have changed the world before us, it lets us know that we can make an impact as well. It serves as inspiration.”

Black History Month Events

  • February 1-28
    • National African American Read-In (Exhibit in Dover Library)
      • Make literacy a significant part of Black History Month—and throughout the year—by reading books, poems, and speeches by black authors.
    • GWU Voices – Stories celebrating alumni and students who are impacting their communities.
  • Monday, Feb. 20
    • 6 to 7 p.m. – Diversity Dialogues: My Hair, My Crown. A discussion aimed at celebrating Black hairstyles and diversity. Third Floor, Tucker Student Center.
  • Thursday, Feb. 23
    • Open Mic Night – 8 p.m., Tucker Student Center.
  • Black History Month: A Family Affair
    • TBD – Sign up with friends and compete for prizes in Black History team trivia. Enjoy good music and food while you test your knowledge of Black culture and history.

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 10 working days prior to the event.  Please call 704-406-4270 or email [email protected] with your request.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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