Thomas M. Armstrong III
In the Segregated Deep South, when lynching, Klansmen and Jim Crow laws ruled, there stood a line of foot soldiers ready to sacrifice their lives for the right to vote, to enter rooms marked ‘White Only,’ and to live with simple dignity. They were called Freedom Riders, and Thomas M. Armstrong III was one of them. He was at the forefront of early protests led by black Southerners for voting rights and equal public accommodations from 1958-1963, resulting in threats that had him running for his life.
Born in Silver Creek, Mississippi, Thomas Armstrong was 14 in 1955—the same year another African-American 14-year-old, Emmett Till, was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman. Three years later, as a student at Tougaloo College, he became involved in the civil rights movement.
He helped organize black Mississippians to register to vote, despite threats on his life. And in 1961 he and three other Tougaloo students took part in the Freedom Rides, a campaign to integrate interstate buses. Though they were arrested in a whites-only waiting room before they could even board their Trailways bus to New Orleans, the so-called Tougaloo Four inspired dozens of others to make the dangerous trips.
Mr. Armstrong moved to Chicago where he has resided since 1964. He remains closely allied with other former Freedom Riders and civil rights workers around the country and regularly speaks at academic institutions, churches and civic organizations.
He has been the subject of scholarly research by respected academics, sought after for major media interviews, and featured in print from critically acclaimed books to a Forbes magazine publication. The documentary Freedom Riders which was broadcast nationally on PBS in 2011 received rave reviews.
Mr. Armstrong collaborated with noted free-lance writer Natalie Bell to document his life experiences as a civil rights activist. In 2011, “The autobiography of a Freedom Rider: My Life as a Foot Soldier for Civil Rights” was published by Health Communications, Inc.
“Whatever difference I might have made, the civil rights movement has given me much in return: a true sense of purpose and an abiding fulfillment.” – Thomas M. Armstrong
Ms. Natalie Bell
Natalie Bell is a journalist who has worked for more than 25 years as a news reporter for broadcast and print news organizations in the Northeast, Midwest and Southern U.S. Her work has been carried by national and international news organizations, such as Dow Jones & Co. and National Public Radio. She is specialized in covering public affairs, in particular education. As a Fulbright-Hayes fellow, she covered political and cultural transition in post-apartheid South Africa.
She received her undergraduate in Journalism from Howard University and her Masters from the School of Journalism at Columbia University. In 2001, she served as a delegate to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism. She has also taught journalism and media studies as an adjunct professor for SUNY College at Old Westbury in the Department of American Studies.
Ms. Bell has family roots in Prentiss, Mississippi, and met Thomas Armstrong while researching her own family history. She is a native of Nashville, Tennessee, and has lived and worked as a television news reporter in Mississippi.
Since the publishing of the book in 2011, she has been engaged in an oral history project, in partnership with the Center for Oral History & Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi. The goal is to promote the preservation of historically black educational institutions in Mississippi, which served the needs of African American children during an era when racial segregation would have denied many black students any educational opportunities.