The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 32,516 black Americans with Byrd as their last name. That represented 35% of the total of 92,904 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Byrd in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
After The Civil War
In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. From 1870 onwards, all black Americans were included.
1,376 people named Byrd were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 197 as mixed.
There was a total of 5,283 people with the name.
Byrd In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped from the census in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 4,802 people with the last name Byrd as black within a total of 15,132 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 11,830 people named Byrd as black within a total of 41,389.
Historic Black Figures With The Byrd Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Byrd as their last name.
- Born: 1926
- From: Cheyenne, Wyoming
- Died: 2015
Liz Rhone met her husband James Byrd at the Fort Warren military base in Cheyenne.
When she graduated as a teacher in 1949, she taught children at the base for ten years. When the Laramie County school district hired her in 1959, she was the first full-time qualified black teacher in Wyoming.
Liz was elected to the Wyoming House Of Representatives in 1981. She became the first black senator in the state in 1989.
She was the primary sponsor of Martin Luther King holiday bill in the state. She was also active in promoting child car-seat laws.
James Byrd (husband of Liz above) served in World War II in France.
He married Liz in 1947 and joined the Cheyenne police department the following year.
When he was later appointed chief of police in Cheyenne, he was the first African American to hold this position in Wyoming.
- Born: 1923
- From: Aiken, South Carolina
- Died: 2017
After graduating with a degree in English and French from Benedict College, Alma Weaver went to France to continue her studies.
She gained her PhD from the University of South Carolina and became professor of French and World Literature at Benedict College where she headed her department.
She married Wallace Byrd. In later life, Alma Byrd was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1991.
Byrd In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Byrd surname from three different military services:
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
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 Byrd was for Alfred Byrd from Norfolk, Virginia. He enlisted in November 1862 at Bayou Goula when he was aged 40.
The record shows that Alfred was assigned on January 1863 to the ship Cayuga.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Tailor. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
Black Soldiers in World War I
George Byrd was born in 1878 in Edgefield, South Carolina. When he enlisted in the army, he fought in France with the 371st Infantry Regiment during World War I.
Private Byrd was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for bravery under fire.
He was in charge of a mortar providing firing cover to a raiding party entering enemy territory. The mortar became loose and started to jump around with erratic aim.
Byrd changed position to sit beside the piping hot mortar to steady it and continued to shoot. In this way, he provided cover under extreme discomfort.
The 371st Infantry Regiment was one of several black regiments in France. The 366th was another. You can read some of their exploits in our look at African American soldiers named Franklin.
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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Willie Byrd graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in December 1943. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Willie was from Fayetteville, North Carolina.