Born  Henry Jackson, Jr., on December 12, 1912, in Columbus, Mississippi,  Armstrong was the eleventh of the family's 15 children. His father,  Henry Jackson, Sr., was a sharecropper and a butcher. His mother,  America Jackson was an Iroquois Indian. 

When  Armstrong was four years old, his father moved the family to St. Louis,  where he and Armstrong's older brothers found work at the Independent  Packing Company. 

Armstrong's  mother died in 1918, leaving the six-year-old under the care of his  paternal grandmother. Like his mother, his grandmother hoped that he  would pursue a career in the ministry. Armstrong, however, displayed no  interest in fulfilling these wishes.

While attending Toussaint L'Ouverture Grammar School in St. Louis, Armstrong acquired the nickname "Red" due to his curly sandy hair with a reddish tint. Small in stature, he was often the target for teasing. In defending himself against bullies, he discovered his interest in boxing.

During  his years attending Vashon High School, Armstrong excelled, earning  good grades and gaining the respect of his peers. He was elected class  president and was selected poet laureate of his class, which provided  him the opportunity to read a valedictory poem at his graduation ceremony.

Armstrong  worked on his athletic abilities, often running the eight miles to  school. After school, he worked as a pinboy at a bowling alley. Here he  gained his first boxing experience, winning a competition among the  pinboys.

By  the time Armstrong graduated from high school at the age of 17, the  Great Depression had arrived. His father, was ill, and struggled to  provide for the family. With no money for college and the need to care  for his family weighing heavily, Armstrong lied about his age, claiming  he was 21 years old, in order to gain employment as a section hand on  the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

Well  aware that his small pay check would never be sufficient to attend  college, Armstrong's life changed one day when the sports section of a  discarded newspaper landed at his feet. Reading that a boxer named Kid  Chocolate received $75,000 for one bout, Armstrong quickly abandoned his  railroad job to pursue a career as a boxer. 

Armstrong  met Harry Armstrong, a former boxer, who became his friend, mentor, and  trainer. Taking the name Melody Jackson, Armstrong won his first  amateur fight at the St. Louis Coliseum in 1929, by a knockout  in the second round. After several more amateur fights, Armstrong moved  to Pittsburgh to pursue a professional career. Ill prepared and  undernourished, Armstrong lost his first professional fight by a  knockout. He did manage to win his second fight on points; however, he  decided to return to St. Louis.

In 1931 Armstrong, accompanied by Harry Armstrong, hopped trains to Los Angeles to restart  his amateur career. Upon meeting fight manager Tom Cox at a local gym,  Armstrong introduced himself as Harry Armstrong's brother, after which  he became known by the name Henry Armstrong. Securing a contract with  Cox for three dollars, he had almost 100 amateur fights, in which he won  more than half by knockout and lost none.

When Cox sold his contract on  Armstrong to Wirt Ross in 1932 for $250, Armstrong entered the  professional ranks to stay.

Standing five feet five and one half inches tall, Armstrong fought in the featherweight class. After losing his first two professional fights in Los Angeles, Armstrong began to consistently win his bouts. 

He became known for his whirlwind  combination of constant movement and knockout punches, earning him  numerous new nicknames, including Homicide Hank, Perpetual Motion, and  Hurricane Henry. Because the purses were small, Armstrong fought often,  usually at least 12 times a year, and supplemented his income by  operating a shoe shine stand from 1931 to 1934.

Armstrong  first married in 1934. He and Willa Mae Shony had one daughter,  Lanetta. After that marriage ended in divorce, Armstrong married several  more times. 

Entertainer Al Jolson, had witnessed one of Armstrong’s bouts  and was so impressed with Armstrong that he convinced New York manager  Eddie Mead to take on the boxer, and Jolson supplied $5,000 to buy out  Ross's contract rights to Armstrong. In a publicity stunt, Jolson and  Mead falsely advertised the buy-out price as $10,000. 

When Ross demanded the full amount as publicized, entertainer George Raft  put up the additional funds and became the third member of Armstrong's  management team. In an attempt to gain popularity and therefore more  important fights with bigger purses, they set a goal of winning titles  in three different weight divisions, an accomplishment no boxer had ever  achieved.

Armstrong  went on to achieve that goal of winning the undisputed featherweight  championship title on October 29, 1937, from Petey Sarron, the  undisputed welterweight championship title on May 30, 1938, from Barney  Ross, and the lightweight championship title on August 17, 1938, from Lou Ambers.

On March 1, 1940, he fought for an unprecedented fourth title in the middleweight division, but lost to Ceferina Garcia in a controversial decision. Most folk thought Armstrong won that fight. 

Armstrong’s career span lasted 14 years. (1931-1945)

After announcing his retirement in 1945 at the age of 32, His final professional record stood at 181 recorded bouts, 151 wins, 101 by knockout, 21 losses and 9 draws.

He  traveled to China, Burma and India with George Raft as part of a group  sent to entertain soldiers. Upon his return, he became a boxing manager  for a time, but his increasing use of alcohol led to his arrest in Los  Angeles. 

In  1949 Armstrong experienced a religious conversion and turned his life  around. Two years later he was ordained as a Baptist minister at Morning  Star Baptist Church. His preaching drew significant crowds to revivals  and other meetings.

Desiring  to help at-risk youth, he created the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation  in Los Angeles and funded the organization from the profits of two books  he wrote: Twenty Years of Poem, Moods, and Mediations (1954) and his autobiography, Gloves, Glory, and God (1956).