Charles A. Armstrong, 1919-2001
The merger of Harris High and Meridian High into one educational unit was the defining moment in local public education and the man standing at the very precipice of public education's future, the man who would lead Meridian High through this turbulent time, died Friday at the age of 82.
He is Charles Andrew Armstrong.
Armstrong did not stand in the schoolhouse door at Meridian High with armed troops warning black students away from school. He opened his arms and his heart to a change that would forever mark public education for the students all of the students who became like members of his own family.
Knowing that society's problems and the best and worst personality traits are eventually mirrored in the public schools, Armstrong took the high road deciding to make desegregation work for the best interests of the people who needed a good education the most, his students.
When he retired in 1980, he was instrumental in the selection of his successor, R.D. Harris, who became the first black principal at Meridian High School. The two remained fast friends for years, even after Harris left to work for the state Department of Education in Jackson.
Harris will serve as a pallbearer at Armstrong's funeral on Saturday at First Baptist Church.
Barnes was summoned back to work for his former high school principal as head coach of Meridian High School's vaunted football program just three years out of college. "He stuck his neck out for me," Barnes said. Armstrong's decision to hire Barnes was confirmed when the young coach's first team went 12-0, "but it easily could have gone the other way," Barnes recalled.
Barnes' leadership abilities, intrinsic knowledge of the sport and his uncanny ability to motivate players and mold young lives in many ways following Armstrong's path quickly confirmed the value of his return to Meridian and dispelled whatever doubts may have existed over his hiring.