The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 61,849 black Americans with Gray as their last name. That represented 25% of the total of 246,116 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Gray in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Gray 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 Gray 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 656 people named Gray who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 254 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 26,044 free citizens named Gray 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.
7,865 people named Gray were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,301 as mixed.
There was a total of 48,177 people with the name.
Gray 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 16,458 people with the last name Gray as black within a total of 83,323 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 22,262 people named Gray as black within a total of 128,532.
Historic Black Figures With The Gray Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Gray as their last name.
- Born: 1867
- From: Clarkesville, Tennessee
- Died: 1953
The young Ida Gray worked as a seamstress to put herself through high school in Cincinnati. When she went to work at a dental office, she was encouraged to pursue dentistry.
Ida graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 1890 as the first African American dentist. She opened practices in Cincinnati and Chicago.
One of her patients, Olive Henderson, was inspired to become the second black female dentist in the city.
Ida paved the way for African Americans to enter dentistry. Hugo Owens was a notable dentist and NAACP activist in the 20th century. Walter Tucker was a dentist who became mayor of Compton in California.
More firsts for historic African Americans
Here are some more black men and women who were pioneers in their fields:
- Born: 1930
- From: Alabama
Fred Gray was the young attorney who represented Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat on the Montgomery bus in 1955.
He went on to represent the NAACP, Dr Martin Luther King, and the efforts to integrate schools and colleges in Alabama.
One of his many cases was in 1964 in a challenge to integrate schools in Montgomery, Alabama. This was on the back of the Montgomery Bus Boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks.
Fred Gray represented the son of Montgomery activists, Arlam and Johnnie Carr, who sued to attend the Sidney Lanier High School. Gray won the case against the County Board of Education, and thirteen black students enrolled in the previously all-white school.
Other pioneering African American lawyers
Gray In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Gray surname from three 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 Gray was in February 1868.
Jesse Gray was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in February 1868 at Fort Riley, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in May 1914. Julius Gray 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 Gray was for Richard Gray from New Haven, Connecticut. He enlisted in July 1862 at New London when he was aged 18.
The record shows that Richard was assigned on December 1862 to the ship Pittsburgh.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Blacksmith. 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 Plymouth in May 1863. Henry was aged 27 and was from Martin County, North Carolina.
He was assigned to the ship Southfield on October 1863.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
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.
George Gray graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. George was from Hemphill, West Virginia.
Leo Gray came from Roxbury, Massachussetts. He graduated in August 1944 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.