Henry Armstrong (1912-1988)

Henry Armstrong
Photo by Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection, Courtesy US Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114433)

Henry Jackson Jr., better known as Henry Armstrong, was born on December 12, 1912, in Columbus, Mississippi to a sharecropper of black, Indian and Irish descent, and a mother who was an Iroquois Indian. At age four his family moved to St. Louis, where he was raised by his grandmother and father after his mother died. It was on the streets of St. Louis that young Henry learned to defend himself from gangs and first displayed a natural affinity for fighting.

While Henry dreamed of going to college to become a doctor he was forced to become the head of the household at the young age of 18 when his father’s health deteriorated and he was no longer able to work. Turning to boxing, Henry failed to qualify for the upcoming Olympics, and began his professional boxing career in 1931 under the name of Melody Jackson. He later adopted the last name of a friend, and changed his last name to Armstrong.

Henry fought a total of 181 bouts during his 14 year career, winning 151, losing 21, drawing 9, and scoring 101 knockouts. Known by a variety of nicknames including Hurricane Henry, Hammering Hank, and Homicide Hank, among others, Armstrong applied constant pressure on his opponents, throwing punches from all angles in a non-stop windmill attacking style, and was recognized for possessing incredible stamina. He is still the only boxer in history to hold three different weight titles simultaneously, as a result of capturing the lightweight crown from Lou Ambers in 1938 and thereby adding that title to the world championships he already held for the featherweight and welterweight weight classes.

At least two sources rank Armstrong as the second greatest fighter of all time behind Sugar Ray Robinson, and numerous other reputable sources include him among their list of top-ten fighters in the history of boxing. After his retirement from the ring he overcame alcoholism, became an ordained Baptist minister and devoted the balance of his life to the assistance of underprivileged youth.