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Honoring the legacy of Dr. Brenda Armstrong

Dr. Brenda Armstrong, Feb. 1, 1985 | Photo by Will Hicks
Dr. Brenda Armstrong, Feb. 1, 1985 | Photo by Will Hicks

On Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, Dr. Brenda "Doc" Armstrong passed away. I remember Coach Doc’s mezzo-trill, threatening us slowpokes with laps “ONE, TWO, THREE...everybody run a lap!” I remember her sprinting down metal bleachers to comfort our 4x4 anchor whose ACL ruptured during pre-lims. I remember the pre-meds’ standing ovations at her inspired speeches about transforming negative “baggage” into a “toolkit” for success. I remember Coach Doc as an inspiration. How will Duke remember her power, compassion, and brilliance? 

Coach Doc was among the first black students to graduate from Duke. She protested unfair treatment of black students in the 1969 Allen Building Takeover. She then completed her MD and become the second black woman to become a board certified pediatric cardiologist. Coach Doc’s influence is immeasurable. She improved nascent integration, saved lives, remediated health disparities, groomed national athletes, and raised a family among other accomplishments. Until we can measure her impact on the world, Dr. Brenda Armstrong should have a building or two named after her. 

Her renown as an academic, mentor, and university pioneer make Dr. Armstrong an icon in Durham, in black history, and at Duke. What better way to honor her iconic work redefining our national, racist, historical "baggage" than by reforming the physical remnants of it into a "toolkit" for progress at her alma mater? 

The Julian Carr History Building on East Campus should be renamed to honor Dr. Brenda Armstrong. Renaming the Carr Building after Dr. Armstrong would begin to redress the memorialization of Julian Carr’s violence against at least one black woman and the legacies those abuses inspired. At present, not one of Duke’s buildings on its most recent map has been named for any person of color. Please contact the Duke Commission on Memory and History to request that Duke University honor Dr. Brenda Armstrong’s legacy by renaming the Carr building after her. Coach Doc was a pioneer in life, and so should she remain in memorium.

Whitney Wingate is an intern at Duke University Press and previously was a summer teaching assistant at the medical school.


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