Coleman As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 97,705 black Americans named Coleman. That represented 45% of the total of 219,070 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at some historic black people named Coleman in the 18th and 19th century.

We end with a dive into early records of African American military service.

Coleman 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. It was left blank to denote white, b for black, or m for mulatto. The third term is the language of the time. I will use mixed in the rest of this article.

If you are researching your black Coleman ancestors in census archives, be sure to check both categories. Do not assume that the person recording the information was correct.

There were 358 people named Coleman who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 149 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that these were free citizens.

There was a total of 14,435 free citizens named Coleman that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first 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.

11,142 people named Coleman were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,523 as mixed. When you compare these numbers with the prior section, the increase is clear.

There was a total of 36,058 people with the name.

Coleman In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers.

The 1900 census recorded 24,385 people named Coleman as black within a total of 63,575 that year.

The 1940 census recorded were 34,907 people named Coleman recorded in the 1940 census as black within a total of 103,629.

Historic Black Figures With The Coleman Surname

Here are some notable people in African American history.

Bessie Coleman

  • Born: 1892
  • Died: 1926
  • From: Atlanta, Texas

Bessie Coleman left Chicago for France in 1920 so that she could train as a pilot. She became the first black woman to get an aviation license.

When she returned to the U.S., Queen Bessie wowed the crowds with stunt flying at exhibitions. She refused to attend events that barred African Americans.

She died in a plane crash before she could fulfill her dream to open a flying school for black pilots. The Smithsonian has a collection of photos devoted to the flying ace.

Bessie wasn’t the only pioneering black female aviator in the early nineteenth century. Willa Brown got her pilot’s license in 1938.

Bessie also inspired William J. Powell who named his flight school in her honor two years after she died.

Fred Coleman

  • Born: 1829
  • From: Kentucky

Fred Coleman was a cattle herder in Julian, California. In 1869, he spotted flecks of gold in a creek while watering his horse.

Coleman had panned before in Northern California, so he knew what to do.

That started the local gold rush. Coleman was elected the town recorder in what became known as the Coleman Mining District.

The California Gold Rush saw several hundred black miners come to the area. John Adams was another of the forty-niners.

Fred Coleman was fortunate that his discovery was after the Civil War.

In contrast, Barney Ford was a black businessman who staked a claim in Colorado during that state’s Gold Rush in the 1850s. He was prevented from obtaining his profits.

William Henry Coleman

  • Born: 1877
  • From: Montgomery, Alabama

William H. Coleman had to work at all kinds of jobs to put himself through college and medical school.

He worked as a hotel bell boy and a Pullman Porter (a porter on sleeper cars). He studied at Meharry Medical School where he also worked as a janitor.

William qualified as a doctor in 1900, one of the early generations of African American physicians. He opened a successful practice in Bessemer, Alabama.

You can read more about him in our longer separate bio of Dr. William H. Coleman.

Other notable Pullman Porters

Pullman porters worked as attendants on luxurious Pullman sleeping cars from the late 19th to mid-20th century. The porters were mostly African Americans.

While the job were prized due to a relatively steady income, the men still struggled to achieve fair pay and working conditions.

Other notable black Americans who spent some time as a Pullman porter include:

Coleman In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.

Here are examples of the Coleman surname from three 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 Coleman was in 1867. Fortune Coleman was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

One of the later entries was in 1916. John Coleman was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry.

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

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 Coleman was for James Coleman from Leesburg, Virginia. He enlisted in 1861 aged 29.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in 1864. Charles was aged 13 and was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. His naval rank was 3rd Class Boy.

“3rd Class Boy” was the rank given to young men under eighteen.

Tuskegee Airmen

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.

William Coleman graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1944. He qualified as a bomber pilot. William was from Detroit, Michigan.

James Coleman came from Detroit, Michigan. He trained as a bomber pilot and graduated in 1944.