The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 71,364 black Americans with Bell as their last name. That represented 32% of the total of 220,599 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Bell in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Bell 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 Bell 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 727 people named Bell who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 333 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 25,736 free citizens named Bell 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.
11,662 people named Bell were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,831 as mixed.
There was a total of 52,770 people with the name.
Bell 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 25,616 people named Bell as black within a total of 93,447 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 36,684 people named Bell as black within a total of 147,452.
Historic Black Figures With The Bell Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Bell as their last name.
Philip Alexander Bell
- Born: 1808
- From: New York City, New York
- Died: 1889
At the age of 23, Philip Alexander Bell started working for the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. The antislavery paper had just been established in Boston in 1831.
Bell established his own newspaper in New York in 1837, the Weekly Advocate. The masthead had the motto:
Established for and devoted to the moral, mental, and political improvement of the people of color.
The newspaper would be renamed “The Colored American” and it ran until 1841.
While he was working at publishing and editing, Philip Bell was also organizing and attending conventions to support black freedom and economic welfare.
He became a well-known leader in abolitionist circles. Bell accepted an invitation in the early 1850s to write for Frederick Douglass’s new weekly paper.
In 1860, Bell moved to San Francisco for an editorial position on a city newspaper. Five years later, he launched a new weekly paper, the San Francisco Elevator.
This was 1865 in the post-Civil War era. The motto of the paper was “Equality Before The Law”. The newspaper was a firm advocate of civil rights and voting legislation in California.
Bell also wrote frequent editorials to promote better schooling in black communities.
Other black newspaper publishers
Several other African Americans established newspapers in these eras:
- Born: 1903
- From: Starkville, Mississippi
- Died: 1991
Cool Papa Bell started out as a pitcher in the Negro National League in 1922. When he moved to outfield, his remarkable speed became apparent.
He could stand shallow and still catch every ball. As a batter, he could steal both first and second base.
The St Louis Stars won three titles with Bell. When he played in the integrated Mexican league, he won the Triple Crown (best batting average, home runs, and runs batted in).
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1974.
The baseball color line was firmly established in the late 19th century to bar black players from major and minor league baseball.
Several black leagues were formed with professional and semi-professional clubs. Some of the outstanding players were the best of their generation, regardless of color.
The color line was eventually broken by Jackie Robinson in 1945.
Other great players from the early black leagues
Here are more outstanding players and/or coaches from the first black professional leagues:
Bell In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Bell 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 Bell was in May 1867.
Lewis Bell was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1867 at Fort Gibson, Connecticut.
One of the later entries was in March 1914. Thomas Bell was a Sergeant 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 Bell was for Lloyd Bell from Washington D.C.. He enlisted in September 1861 aged 41.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Blacksmith. His naval rank was Seaman.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in June 1864. John was aged 27 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Shoemaker. 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.
Raul Bell graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in April 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Raul was from Portland, Oregon.
His combat credits said: Downed 1 Fw-190 on March 31, 1945
George Bell came from Altoona, Pennsylvania. He graduated in June 1946 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.