The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 48,258 black Americans with Graham as their last name. That represented 24% of the total of 201,159 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Graham in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Graham 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. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Graham ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 290 people named Graham who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 140 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 19,427 free citizens named Graham that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey 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.
4,795 people named Graham were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 585 as mixed.
There was a total of 37,943 people with the name.
Graham In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 10,199 people with the last name Graham as black within a total of 67,122 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 17,122 people named Graham as black within a total of 110,388.
Historic Black Figures With The Graham Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham
- Born: About 1830
- From: New York City, New York
- Died: 1901
Elizabeth Jennings’ parents were relatively prosperous members of New York’s black community. She became a teacher at several schools for black children.
She was also an organist and one day in 1854, she was running late for church.
Elizabeth boarded a private tram and was violently ejected by the conductor and a policeman despite insisting on her right to travel. Her father and prominent leaders like Frederick Douglass were galvanized to act.
With their support, Elizabeth won a court case against the tram company in 1855. The following day, that particular tram company desegregated its cars.
This was the beginning of a ten-year fight in New York for desegregated public travel. During that time, Elizabeth married Charles Graham.
Mary Henrietta Graham
- Born: 1858
- From: Windsor, Ontario
- Died: 1890
This article is about African Americans, but we want to include one of many black children born in Ontario to parents from the American South who departed for freedom.
Mary Henrietta Graham’s father was a black man who left Illinois in the early 1850s for greater freedom in Canada. He married an English woman and raised a family amongst the black community of Windsor, Ontario.
Mary moved to Michigan to attend Flint High School, where she graduated in 1876.
Flint was one of the few schools that gave automatic admission for graduates to Michigan. But up until now, no black high school graduate had set their sights on the institution.
In September 1876, Mary Henrietta Graham became the first black woman to gain entrance to the University of Michigan. The university had only started admitting women in the 1860s, so she was a double rarity on the campus.
She graduated in 1880 with a degree in philosophy. Little is known about her life while at university. We know that she lived with her mother and sisters in Ann Arbor while studying. We also know that she went by the name of Mollie.
When she graduated, the local newspaper published this account:
She has proven herself to be a person of unusual intellect, and is entitled to much credit for her perseverance in pushing her way through the university.Ann Arbor Courier, 1880
Mollie went on to become a teacher and matron at the Lincoln Institute in Missouri. This was a teaching for black students. Mollie oversaw the sixty female students at the college.
After a few years, she left Missouri to go back to Ann Arbor. There, she married Ferdinand Lee Barrett, a civil rights lawyer.
One of the witnesses at their wedding was the first black woman to graduate from the University Of Michigan Medical School. You can learn more about Dr. Sophia B. Jones here.
She worked on his newspaper, which was the first black newspaper in Chicago.
Mollie sadly died young in 1889, leaving her husband with two young sons.
The widower would later marry another black woman of great importance. You can read more about Ida B. Wells here.
Other firsts in history
Graham In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Graham surname from two different military service, the Buffalo soldiers and black civil war sailors.
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 Graham was in 1876. William Graham was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1876 at Fort Clark, Texas.
One of the later entries was in 1914. Noah Graham was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. 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 Graham was for William Graham from New Port, Kentucky. He enlisted in February 1862 at Cincinnati when he was aged 38.
The record shows that William was assigned on January 1863 to the ship Judge Torrence.
His occupation before enlisting was as a horse seller. His naval rank was 2nd Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Island No 76, Massachussetts in December 1863. John was aged 18 and was from Oldham County, Kentucky.
He was assigned to the ship Marmora on June 1864.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fieldhand. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.