A Voice Through the Viewfinder: Images of Arkansas's Black Community by Ralph Armstrong

Ralph Armstrong was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas in 1925 to Ralph Armstrong II and Callie Armstrong. Growing up, he exhibited enormous artistic talent, mainly in the field of music. Armstrong played saxophone in the Scipio Jones High School band and loved to listen to broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Though music was for many years his primary passion, Armstrong also enjoyed photography and liked to take pictures of his friends and schoolmates with a Brownie camera he saved up for and bought himself.

Armstrong was drafted into the United States Navy in 1943 and spent a couple of years in the Chicago area at the Great Lakes Naval Station before serving in the Pacific theater. Though he returned to Little Rock briefly after World War II, he soon headed for Chicago to study at the American Conservatory of Music. Though a very talented musician, Armstrong was denied a seat in the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra because of his race. After this rejection, Armstrong gave up his career in music and turned to his other love, photography.

During his ten years in Chicago, Ralph Armstrong studied photography and opened a successful studio with a colleague he met at the Chicago School of Photography.After moving back to Little Rock with his wife in 1951, Armstrong opened a photography studio and became a letter carrier for the Postal Service. For over fifty years, he photographed decades of memories for the black community in Little Rock, creating a legacy of visual history. Ralph Armstrong passed away in 2006, but is remembered as the man who captured the spirit of Little Rock’s African Americanlife.