Clay As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 20,026 black Americans with Clay as their last name. That represented 41% of the total of 48,844 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Clay 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

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.

From 1870 onwards, all black Americans were included.

3,312 people named Clay were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 525 as mixed.

There was a total of 9,805 people with the name.

Clay 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 6,951 people with the last name Clay as black within a total of 16,767 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 8,557 people named Clay as black within a total of 24,455.

Historic Black Figures With The Clay Surname

Here are some notable African Americans in history with Clay as their last name.

Roy Clay

  • Born: 1929
  • From: Kinloch, Missouri

Roy Clay graduated from St Louis University with a degree in mathematics. After a couple of computing jobs, Hewlett Packard hired him to lead the team that built their first minicomputer.

He became director of their computing R&D division through to the mid 1970s, and was hugely influential in the company’s direction.

Clay ultimately set up his own electronics company. He was inducted into the Silicon Valley Hall Of Fame in 203.

William Clay

  • Born: 1931
  • From: St. Louis, Missouri

When Bill Clay was eighteen, he was arrested for a crime he had nothing to do with. His aunt worked for a housekeeper for a member of the police. commissioners board, and her employer intervened to free him.

Clay became determined to go into politics to protect black Americans.

When drafted into the army after college, he organized protests against discrimination on his army base in Alabama.

He entered local politics in 1959 as an Alderman. As a civil rights activist in the 1960s, he led protests in St Louis and was jailed for four months.

Gwen Burdette Giles was his campaign manager when he ran for Congress in 1969. She would later go on to be the first black senator in Missouri.

Clay was elected to Congress, the first black American to represent Missouri. He was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

His areas of major influence included workers rights, minimum wage levels, and improved grants for disadvantaged students.

Gwen Giles was elected to the Missouri state senate in 1977 and was the first black woman in this role.

Clay In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Clay surname from several different military services.

Buffalo Soldiers

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 Clay was in September 1867. Henry Clay was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in September 1867 at Fort Gibson, Connecticut.

One of the later entries was in December 1914. Fred Clay was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.

If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on and

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.

Cassius Clay

One of the earliest entries for Clay was for Cassius Clay from Oxford, Ohio. He enlisted in June 1863 at Cincinnati when he was aged 17.

The record shows that Cassius was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Victory.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.

Henry Clay

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Clarksville in February 1864. Henry was aged 20 and was from Lebanon County, Tennessee.

He was assigned to the ship Fairplay on August 1865.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. His naval rank was Seaman.

A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.