The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 15,593 black Americans with Cummings as their last name. That represented 20% of the total of 79,316 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Cummings.
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 onward, all black Americans were included.
971 people named Cummings were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 142 as mixed.
There was a total of 16,361 people with the name.
Cummings 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 2,187 people with the last name Cummings as black within a total of 27,161 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 4,641 people named Cummings as black within a total of 42,844.
Historic Black Figures With The Cummings Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Cummings as their last name.
Willis Nelson Cummings
- Born: 1894
- From: Galveston, Texas
- Died: 1991
Willis Cumming’s father was a school principal, and his mother was a teacher in Galveston.
After Willis graduated from Fisk University in 1916, he enrolled in the School of Dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of two black students and graduated sixth in his class.
During his time at Penn, Cummings became captain of the cross-country athletics team. He was the first African American to captain a varsity team in the Ivy League.
It’s no surprise that Willis went into dentistry given that his grandfather (Robert Badger) and great grandfather (John Badger) were dentists. Dr. Willis Cummings moved to Harlem in 1920 where he practiced for nearly fifty years.
- Born: 1951
- From: Baltimore, Maryland
- Died: 2019
Elijah Cummings was a son of sharecroppers. He was a civil rights activist from an early age. As a schoolboy, he and his friends were part of integrating a swimming pool in Baltimore.
When he attended Howard University, Cummings was heavily involved in student governing body. Cummings went on to study law and practiced in Maryland for nearly twenty years.
Cummings was elected to Maryland House of Delegates in 1983 and served there until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996.
Cummings In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the Cummings surname from 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 Cummings was in June 1867. Terry Cummings was a Recruit in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in June 1867 at Fort Gibson, Connecticut.
Another entry was in February 1916. Richard E. Cummings was a 1st Sergeant in the U.S. Ninth Cavalry.
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 Cummings was for Robert Cummings from Philadelphia. He enlisted in October 1862 at Philadelphia when he was aged 25.
The record shows that Robert was assigned on June 1863 to the ship Mohican.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Steward. 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 at Beaufort, North Carolina in April 1864. Doctor was aged 13 and was from Onslow County, North Carolina.
He was assigned to the ship Keyston State on March 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was a rank generally given to seamen in training, who performed various manual tasks and duties aboard a ship under supervision. This could prepare them for promotion to the rank of ordinary seaman.
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.
Hemdon Cummings graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in March 1945. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Hemdon was from Montrose, Georgia.