Curtis As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 16,125 black Americans with Curtis as their last name. That represented 16% of the total of 101,801 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Curtis.

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.

2,332 people named Curtis were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 402 as mixed.

There was a total of 24,719 people with the name.

Curtis 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 4,785 people with the last name Curtis as black within a total of 37,724 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 6,389 people named Curtis as black within a total of 55,022.

Historic Black Figures With The Curtis Surname

Here is a notable African American in history with Curtis as their last name.

Gertrude Curtis

  • Born: 1880
  • From: Bradford, Pennsylvania
  • Died: 1973

Gertrude Curtis studied dentistry at the New York College of Dental and Oral Surgey. She graduated in 1909 and opened a practice in Harlem. She also ran a dental clinic at Bellevue Hospital.

Curtis was the first African American woman to be licensed as a dentist in the state of New York. She was a member of several organizations promoting health and economic opportunities in black communities.

She married Richard McPherson in 1912, a composer who wrote under the name Cecil Mack. The couple were active fund-raisers for the NAACP.

Curtis In Black Military Records

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

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • Tuskegee airmen

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 Curtis was in August 1867. Phillip Curtis was a Recruit in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Memphis, Tennessee.

Another entry was in March 1913. Frederick Curtis was a Corporal in the U.S. Tenth 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.

Joseph Curtis

One of the earliest entries for Curtis was for Joseph Curtis from Frederick County, Maryland. He enlisted in September 1863 at Baltimore when he was aged 37.

The record shows that Joseph was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Morse.

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

A seaman or “able seaman” in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.

Benjamin Curtis

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Smithville, North Carolina in July 1865. Benjamin was aged 21 and was from Columbia, South Carolina.

He was assigned to the ship Hetzel on July 1865.

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

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

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.

Samuel Curtis graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in July 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Samuel was from Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

William Curtis came from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated in March 1945 as a bomber pilot.

You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.