Thursday, February 29, 2024

Remembering Sammie Ross Armstrong, Las Vegas legend

January 5, 2024 by  
Filed under Feature

A giant in the Las Vegas community, Armstrong helped lay a foundation for Black business strength in the city.

Ms. Brenda Williams and Mr. Sammie Ross Armstrong

People across Las Vegas were shocked and saddened to learn of the recent passing of longtime resident Sammie Ross Armstrong. 

Armstrong was a respected member of the community who left an extraordinary impact as a businessman, activist, and community booster. His contributions as the first Black owner of a bus transportation business in Nevada — some believe, in the entire United States — was opening doors and unlocking possibilities for others to follow in his footsteps. 

A foundational friend and supporter of Las Vegas Black Image Magazine, it was recently discovered that Armstrong once served as a bartender at the Sugar Hill Night Club and Bar on Miller Street in the Historic Westside — owned by Black Image co-publisher Kimberly Bailey Tureaud’s parents, Bob and Anna. 

“Mr. Armstrong was a great man and I remember him giving me a job when I first returned to Vegas back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” recalled Bailey Tureaud. “His wisdom took so many of us further.” 

Armstrong loved history and was a longtime member of the Buffalo Soldiers social group and served on the Dr. Martin Luther King Committee. He was widely admired for his community involvement and focus on creating jobs as the owner of Ray and Ross Transport, the largest minority-owned company in the state of Nevada during the 1980s and the 1990s. In addition to being the second-largest bus company in Clark County, Ray & Ross Transport employed 180 people and paid higher wages than any other West Coast company of its kind. 

Mr. Armstrong’s book, “Keep on Rollin”

He was respected by many, but few knew Armstrong, the man, as well as his longtime friend Brenda Williams — a pillar in the community and renowned Nevada leader. She authored the famed book, “Westside School Alumni Stories,” and was appointed by then Mayor Oscar Goodman as interim Councilwoman of Ward 5 in 2007. Her late husband, Monroe Williams, served as the first black firefighter in Las Vegas, and she is the brainchild for the recent, “The Centennial Celebration and Parade of the Historic Westside School.”

How long would you say you have known Sammie Armstrong?

From the late 1960s — I guess it’s more than 50 years. We met Sam when he and my late husband, Monroe Williams, were friends. He gave a party at his home, and it was so impressive. Everybody who was anybody in the community was there. He and his first wife, Marilyn, gave a fabulous party and it was the first time I witnessed a whole pig being roasted in the ground. I thought, “These people have a lot of ingenuity.” We were friends back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but we really became close friends after the untimely death of my husband. 

Sam has always been the kind of person that wanted to be helpful. So, if anyone was coming — we lived in the same neighborhood — to fix something in my home, he would make sure to oversee their work and to let them know I was not in my home alone. He would tell me to take some of my husband’s or son’s shoes and put them out in front of my door, so people knew there was a man in the house. He wanted me to know he was there after my husband died, and I so appreciated that. He was a caring friend to me. 

How would you describe Mr. Armstrong? 

Sam was a loyal man of high integrity, character, values and a true friend. We had a lot in common, we both liked to garden, watch sports, and play golf. But, most of all, we sought to make a positive difference in the growth and development of our community. Having served as a City Councilwoman and City Planner, we had many impactful meetings and conversations on how we could affect change, and we did. 

My last conversation with Sam—I called him for the Las Vegas Fordyce Club Annual Reunion. He said, “Ms. Williams, I have changed addresses. I am in Summerlin Hospital now.” I was shocked because I didn’t know he was in the hospital. He said, “I had a fall, and they are checking to make sure everything is okay with my health. But I want you to know that I got involved with your Centennial Celebration and Parade because I didn’t want to see you in the hospital because of all the stuff you would have to go through to make it happen. I knew it would be successful and great for everyone.” 

I knew he was being protective again, but for somebody to express themselves to you like that and they are in the hospital — it is something I still must come to grips with today. He was truly a great man. The next day after our conversation his daughter called me and told me Sam had passed away. 

Mr. Armstrong was revolutionary in so many ways. 

On a national basis, yes. He co-founded the first Black-owned Ray & Ross Transport Bus Line, and I just recently learned how he would sponsor trips back to Fordyce, Arkansas for the Las Vegas’ Fordyce Club to go to visit their hometown from Vegas. Also, his bus line provided transportation to our men from the community who were working at the Nevada Test Site. Some people don’t realize what it takes to be “The First,” but it means you must go through a lot of stuff to become successful. You also must have a lot of savvy and courage so others can’t push you around. Sam had it all, and he was one that made things happen! 

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