The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 28,745 black Americans with Cunningham as their last name. That represented 21% of the total of 135,718 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Cunningham.
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.
3,180 people named Cunningham were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 429 as mixed.
There was a total of 31,086 people with the name.
Cunningham 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 6,256 people with the last name Cunningham as black within a total of 50,015 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 10,669 people named Cunningham as black within a total of 77,969.
Historic Black Figures With The Cunningham Surname
Here is a notable African American in history with Cunningham as their last name.
Charles Franklin Cunningham
- Born: 1933
- From: South Pittsburg, Tennessee
- Died: 2017
Charles Cunningham served in the U.S. Army before attending Tennessee State University. He graduated with a degree in maths and chemistry and started teaching high school in 1959.
Cunningham was a founder of the Central Arkansas Development Council in 1965, an organization that served low-income families to help alleviate poverty. He was executive director for 37 years.
When he was elected in 1981 as mayor of Benton in Saline County, he was the first African American to hold the position. He served as a Benton alderman for fourteen years.
Cunningham In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the Cunningham 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 Cunningham was in August 1867. Samuel Cunningham was a Private in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Another entry was in January 1915. Alton Cunningham was a Trumpeter 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 Cunningham was for Perry Cunningham from Philadelphia. He enlisted in December 1861 at Philadelphia when he was aged 30.
The record shows that Perry was assigned on June 1863 to the ship James S. Chambers.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Porter/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 at Philadephia in December 1861. John was aged 20 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.
He was assigned to the ship Mystic on June 1864.
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.
John Cunningham graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1943. He qualified as a Liaison pilot. John was from Muncie, Indiana.