Parents instilled sense of equality into Armstrong at early age
By JESSICA MARSICO
Betty Green Armstrong knew she wasn’t allowed to go to parties and other social events with her Youngstown College classmates, but the retired librarian never let this distract her from her goal of getting an education.
“I was so busy studying and everything, I really didn’t have that much time to socialize because my nose was always in a book,” said the 1950 graduate of Youngstown College.
Sitting in a chair in her living room and flipping through a 1946-47 yearbook, Armstrong explained how going to college was never in doubt for her, despite the fact that hers is one of the few African-American faces in the entire book.
She remembers her mother saying, “ ‘If you have an education, nobody can take it away from you and you can become anything you want to be. Don’t let anybody make you think elsewise. You’re just as good as anyone else and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not.’ ”
While she knew the activity card situation and other of society’s restrictions weren’t fair to African Americans, this was before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. She didn’t dare protest.
“I never thought of making trouble because I didn’t live that kind of life. I was a shy, little girl,” she said.
Besides, life wasn’t bad for Armstrong. She got along well with the students on campus.
“I didn’t feel any segregation among the students that were down there. Really, where it came from was the top level,” she said.
As a freshman, Armstrong was voted the first-ever sweetheart of the all-black Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Youngstown College. She points to a picture in the yearbook and talks about the boys surrounding her and close ties she had with them in her college years.
Those years were good ones and she is grateful to her family for protecting her and pushing her at the same time. Her brother and sister, who both died in 2003, also graduated from Youngstown College. Her sister was the first student of color to graduate from the School of Nursing. Her brother, who graduated with a degree in physical therapy, became the first physical therapist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
“I’ve never felt in my life that I was inferior to anybody, white or black, I never felt that way. And I knew as a child, I was going to go to college and I knew it had to be here in the city because they weren’t going to send me away. (Her parents) just protected us, very closely,” she said.
Armstrong’s undergraduate major, teaching, combined with her part- time job in the library, led her to pursue a master’s degree in library science. She had no idea how she would pay for that degree.
Her step-grandfather, Claude Frank Curtis, who was a chauffeur for two wealthy sisters, came up with the idea of approaching the American Association of University Women for a loan of $500. The association gave her the loan with the understanding that she begin repaying it as soon as she landed her first job. Curtis then gave her another $500 to help with the costs of attending Western Reserve College in Cleveland, where she was studying for her masters.
After earning that degree in 1953, Armstrong returned home and was hired as a librarian by the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. In 1955, she married Herbert Louis Armstrong. In 1965, he became Youngstown’s first African American elementary-school principal. He had been teaching for more than 10 years.
While Armstrong said society has improved from the 1940s and 1950s, racism is still prevalent in Youngstown.
“There’s still prejudice here in the city of Youngstown to this very day. I see it in the pattern of things right now.”