In May of 1962 Ebony magazine published a story about America’s 100 Richest Negroes. The list included the name of a prominent Galvestonian. His name was T. D. Armstrong.
Thomas Deboy Armstrong moved to Galveston in 1938 to work for Strode Mortuary. He had been a school teacher for six years in Port Arthur and Louisiana before moving to Galveston.
In 24 years of working on the island he had built a business empire that placed him on the list of top 100 Richest Negroes in America. His businesses included real estate, café, motel, drug store, life insurance, funeral home, gas station and more.
May 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of this great accomplishment. Mr. Armstrong was a negro, but he was also a dedicated Galvestonian. This anniversary is something all Galvestonians should celebrate.
Mr. Armstrong’s memory is almost erased from the island. His former home was heavily damaged during Ike and has since been sold. His wife died in 2010 and his descendants only own one or two properties on the island today.
Mr. Armstrong died Dec. 28, 1972. Christie Mitchell spoke very highly of the silver haired T.D. Armstrong in an article he wrote “The Last Days of 1972 ‘Have Been Rough’” dated Dec. 31, 1972 Galveston Daily News.
Mr. Armstrong was one of the framers of the city of Galveston Charter in 1961. He was the first elected black councilman since reconstruction. Norris Wright Cuney had been elected alderman during the reconstruction era.
I never met Mr. Armstrong, but I am inspired by his story. He grew up poor in Port Arthur, but with hard work became one of the top 100 Richest Negroes in America. He was a Husband, Father, businessman, politician, volunteer and proud Galvestonian.
I drove by Mr. Armstrong’s house and noticed a dumpster out front. Did anyone think to save his papers or documents? How did this happen on an island that is one of the leading preservation communities in the nation? Does anyone even care about the memory of T. D. Armstrong?
How many knew that Armstrong was a partner in B. A. & P. Realty Company which donated land for the first Black County Park in Texas? Or that Armstrong may have owned the first minority owned Gulf Station in Texas? At the time of his death Armstrong owned the largest black owned life insurance company Tyler Life Insurance in the state of Texas.
I was able to find a copy of the May 1962 issue of Ebony magazine online. I also looked up a few newspaper articles about Mr. Armstrong. I talked to his son Tommy Jr. who lives in Houston. I would like to hear from people that knew Mr. Armstrong.
If you have any stories or memories of Mr. Armstrong please attend our African American Heritage Committee meeting Tuesday May 8, 2012 at 4pm at Old Central Cultural Center, 2627 Ave M. Share your stories of this great Galvestonian.