Dennis As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 21,849 black Americans with Dennis as their last name. That represented 28% of the total of 78,482 entries.

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

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.

2,589 people named Dennis were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 242 as mixed.

There was a total of 14,399 people with the name.

Dennis 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 4,885 people with the last name Dennis as black within a total of 23,538 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 7,715 people named Dennis as black within a total of 41,863.

Historic Black Figures With The Dennis Surname

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

David Dennis

  • Born: 1940
  • From: Omega, Louisiana

Dave Dennis was born into a family of hardworking but impoverished sharecroppers in Louisiana. When they moved to the city, he was the first of his family to finish high school. He enrolled at Dillard in New Orleans where he struck up a friendship with a student involved in CORE.

Getting involved in the civil rights movement, he attended many sit-ins and protests. In 1961, he joined the Freedom Ride from Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi.

The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on segregated buses in the South from 1961. They sat in mixed groups to challenge seating segregation.

If they weren’t arrested on the bus, they would disembark and sit in segregated cafes and terminals. The activists endured violent arrests from local police who would also let gathering mobs attack them.

Frustrated with progress in Mississippi, Dennis worked with Bob Moses to organize the 1964 Freedom Summer to encourage vote registration.

Dennis as deeply affected by the Klan abduction and murders of three Freedom Summer volunteers – James Chaney and his Jewish co-activists Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. These events are known as Mississippi Burning.

Dennis delivered an impassioned eulogy at Chaney’s funeral. The national outrage was part of what secured the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

More Freedom Riders

Here are just some of the other brave Freedom Riders:

Dennis In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the Dennis surname from military service.

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 Dennis was in August 1867. Alfred Dennis was a Recruit in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas and Delaware.

Another entry was in April 1914. David Dennis was a Private in the U.S. 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.

Joseph L. Dennis

One of the earliest entries for Dennis was for Joseph L. Dennis from Philadelphia. He enlisted in July 1862 at Philadelphia when he was aged 18.

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

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

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

John Dennis

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New Orleans in November 1863. John was aged 24 and was from New Orleans, Louisiana.

He was assigned to the ship Estrella on December 1863.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. 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.