About Samuel Chapman Armstrong
Samuel Chapman Armstrong (January 30, 1839 – May 11, 1893) was an American educator and a commissioned officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is best remembered for his work after the war as the founder and first principal of the normal school which is now Hampton University.
The son of missionary Richard Armstrong (1805–1860), Armstrong was born in Maui, Hawaiʻi, the sixth of ten children. He attended Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. In 1860 his father suddenly died, and Armstrong, at age 21, left Hawaiʻi for the United States and attended Williams College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1862.
At the time Armstrong completed college, the United States was engaged in the American Civil War. After graduating, Armstrong volunteered to serve in the Union Army, and recruited a company near Troy, New York. He was appointed a captain in the 125th New York Infantry, a three-years regiment in George L. Willard's brigade. Armstrong was among the 12,000 men captured in September 1862 with the surrender of the garrison at Harpers Ferry. After being paroled,he returned to the front lines in Virginia in December. As part of the 3rd Division of the II Corps under Alexander Hays Armstrong, he fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, defending Cemetery Ridge against Pickett's Charge.
Armstrong subsequently rose through the ranks to lieutenant colonel, being assigned to the 9th Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT) in late 1863. He was assigned command of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops when its previous commander was disabled from wounds. Armstrong's experiences with these regiments aroused his interest in the welfare of black Americans. He led the regiment during the Siege of Petersburg, and the 8th was one of the first Union regiments to enter the city after the Confederates withdrew from their trenches. In November 1864, Armstrong was promoted to colonel "for gallant and meritorious services at Deep Bottom and Fussell's Mill" during the Siege of Petersburg.
The 8th USCT pursued the Army of Northern Virginia during the subsequent Appomattox Campaign. After Robert E. Lee surrendered that army, Armstrong and his men returned to Petersburg briefly before being sent by sea to Ringgold Barracks near Rio Grande City on the Mexican border in Texas. On October 10, 1865, the 8th USCT began marching from Texas to Philadelphia, where Armstrong and his men were discharged out of the military November 10, 1865 shortly after their belated arrival. On January 13, 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Armstrong for the award of the brevet grade of brigadier general of volunteers to rank from March 13, 1865 and the U.S. Senate confirmed the award on March 12, 1866.
When Armstrong was assigned to command the USCT, training was conducted at Camp Stanton near Benedict, Maryland. While stationed at Stanton, he established a school to educate the black soldiers, most of whom had no education as slaves.
At the end of the war, Armstrong joined the Freedmen's Bureau. With the help of the American Missionary Association, he established the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute—now known as Hampton University—in Hampton, Virginia in 1868. The Institute was meant to be a place where black students could receive post-secondary education to become teachers, as well as training in useful job skills while paying for their education through manual labor.
During Armstrong's career, and during Reconstruction, the prevailing concept of racial adjustment promoted by whites and African Americans equated technical and industrial training with the advancement of the black race. This idea was not a new solution and traced its history to before the American Civil War. But especially after the war, blacks and whites alike realized the paradox that freedom posed for the African American population in the racist south. Freedom meant liberation from the brutality and degradation of slavery, but as W. E. B. Du Bois described it, a black person "felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." Although the end of slavery was the inevitable result of the Union victory, less obvious was the fate of millions of penniless blacks in the South. Former abolitionists and white philanthropists quickly focused their energies on stabilizing the black community, assisting the newly freed blacks to become independent, positive contributors to their community, helping them improve their race and encouraging them to strive toward a standard put forth by American whites.
In the aftermath of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831, the Virginia General Assembly passed new legislation making it unlawful to teach slaves, free blacks, or mulattoes to read or write. Similar laws were also enacted in other slave-holding states across the South. The removal of these laws after the Civil War helped draw attention to the problem of illiteracy as one of the great challenges confronting these people as they sought to join the free enterprise system and support themselves
One instrument through which this process of racial uplift could take place was schools such as the Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute. The Hampton Institute exemplified the paternalistic attitudes of whites who felt it was their duty to develop those they regarded as lesser races. General Samuel Armstrong molded the curriculum to reflect his background as both a wartime abolitionist and the child of white missionaries in Hawaii. Armstrong believed that several centuries of the institution of slavery in the United States had left its blacks in an inferior moral state and only whites could help them develop to the point of American civilization. "The solution lay in a Hampton-style education, an education that combined cultural uplift with moral and manual training, or as Armstrong was fond of saying, an education that encompassed 'the head, the heart, and the hands.'" The general insisted that blacks should refrain from voting and politics because their long experience as slaves and, before that, pagans, had degraded the race beyond responsible participation in government. "Armstrong maintained that it was the duty of the superior white race to rule over the weaker dark-skinned races until they were appropriately civilized. This civilization process, in Armstrong’s estimate, would require several generations of moral and religious development." The primary means through which white civilization could be instilled in African Americans was by the moral power of labor and manual industry.
At the heart of the early Hampton-style education during Armstrong's tenure was this emphasis on labor and industry. However, teaching blacks to work was a tool, not the primary goal, of the Institute. Rather than producing classes of individual craftsmen and laborers, Hampton was ultimately a normal school (teacher's school) for future black teachers. In theory, these black teachers would then apply the Hampton idea of self-help and industry at schools throughout the U.S., especially the South. To this end, a prerequisite for admission to Hampton was the intent to become a teacher. In fact, "approximately 84 percent of the 723 graduates of Hampton’s first twenty classes became teachers." Armstrong strove to instill in these disciples the moral value of manual labor. This concept became the crucial component of Hampton’s training of black educators.
Perhaps the best student of Armstrong’s Hampton-style education was Booker T. Washington. After coming to the school in 1872, Washington immediately began to adopt Armstrong’s teaching and philosophy. Washington described Armstrong as “the most perfect specimen of man, physically, mentally and spiritually the most Christ-like….” Washington also quickly learned the aim of the Hampton Institute. After leaving Hampton, he recalled being admitted to the school, despite his ragged appearance, due to the ability he demonstrated while sweeping and dusting a room. From his first day at Hampton, Washington embraced Armstrong's idea of black education. Washington went on to attend Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C., and he returned to Hampton to teach on Armstrong's faculty. Upon Sam Armstrong's recommendation to Lewis Adams, Washington became the first principal of a new normal school in Alabama, which became Tuskegee University. Many religious organizations, former Union Army officers and soldiers, and wealthy philanthropists were inspired to create and fund educational efforts specifically for the betterment of African Americans in the South by the work of pioneering educators such as Samuel Armstrong and Dr. Washington.
As the ever-increasing numbers of new teachers went back to their communities, by the first third of the 20th century, over 5,000 local schools had been built for blacks in the South with private matching funds provided by individuals such as Henry H. Rogers, Andrew Carnegie, and most notably, Julius Rosenwald, each of whom had arisen from modest roots to become wealthy. Dr. Washington later wrote that, by requiring matching funds, the benefactors felt they were also addressing self-esteem. The recipients locally would have a stake in knowing that they were helping themselves through their own hard work and sacrifice. In many communities, the histories of the so-called Rosenwald schools reflect that to have proved true.
In time, the normal schools which had been originally established primarily to work with blacks at Hampton, Tuskegee, and elsewhere evolved from their primary focus on industrial training, practical skills and basic literacy into institutions of higher education focused not only upon training teachers, but teaching academics of many types, many eventually becoming full-accredited universities.
Samuel Armstrong suffered a debilitating paralysis in 1892 while speaking in New York. He returned to Hampton in a private railroad car provided by his multimillionaire friend, Collis P. Huntington, builder of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, with whom he had collaborated on black-education projects.
Sam Armstrong died at the Hampton Institute on May 11, 1893. He was interred in the school's cemetery.
His grandson, Harold Howe II, became Commissioner of Education under the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson.
Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia, was named after Armstrong in 1909.
US Army Fort Armstrong, (Hawaii) built just before World War I, was a coastal artillery battery guarding Honolulu harbor. Part of the land was used for the Prince Kuhio Federal Building. Other parts of Fort Armstrong became a container terminal for military supplies, which still uses the name. A building and alumni award for humanitarian contributions were named for him at Punahou School.
Armstrong Hall (Science Building) at Tuskegee University was named after Armstrong in 1929.