The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 69,653 black Americans with Alexander as their last name. That represented 34% of the total of 204,621 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Alexander in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Alexander Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Alexander ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 317 people named Alexander who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 169 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 17,624 free citizens named Alexander that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
8,730 people named Alexander were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,486 as mixed.
There was a total of 35,415 people with the name.
Alexander In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 17,639 people named Alexander as black within a total of 59,522 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 25,333 people named Alexander as black within a total of 100,756.
Historic Black Figures With The Alexander Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history.
Sadie Mossell Alexander
- Born: 1898
- From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Died: 1989
Sadie Mossell graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1918 despite harassment from teachers and students. She persisted with her studies and became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in the U.S.
She married Raymond Alexander in 1923 and became the first black woman to graduate from Pennsylvania Law School.
But she was following in family footsteps. Her grandfather, Aaron Mossell, had been the first African American to graduate from Penn with a law degree.
Sadie joined her husband’s law firm, and both worked for civil rights causes throughout their lives.
During her time at university, she was president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. You can read their appreciation of their first president here.
Other pioneering African American lawyers
- Born: 1910
- From: Louisiana
- Died: 1999
Reverend Avery Alexander played a key part in the civil rights movement in Louisiana. He engaged in a lunch counter sit-in in 1963 and was violently dragged away by the police.
He led bus boycotts and would remove the wooden dividers used for segregation in street cars.
Rev Alexander was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1975 and never ceased activism.
When he was 82, the police forcibly removed him from a peaceful protest against a confederate monument in New Orleans.
Alexander In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Alexander surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Alexander was in April 1867.
Joseph Alexander was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in April 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in May 1915. Luther Alexander was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Alexander was for Ceaser Alexander from Wilmington, North Carolina. He enlisted in November 1861 aged 32.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Distiller. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in September 1862. James was aged 22 and was from Washington, D.C.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Steward/Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Harvey Alexander graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in April 1944. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Harvey was from Georgetown, Illinois.
Walter Alexander came from Orange, New Jersey. He graduated in June 1945 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.