Griffin As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 61,128 black Americans with Griffin as their last name. That represented 31% of the total of 198,406 entries.

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

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.

6,305 people named Griffin were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 908 as mixed.

There was a total of 36,083 people with the name.

Griffin 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 14,905 people with the last name Griffin as black within a total of 63,167 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 22,361 people named Griffin as black within a total of 100,481.

Historic Black Figures With The Griffin Surname

Here are some notable African Americans in history with Griffin as their last name.

Henry Malachi Griffin

  • Born: 1858
  • From: Gloucester County, New Jersey
  • Died: 1931

Henry Malachi Griffin was born into a farming family. He studied at the University of Cincinnati from 1882.

He excelled as a student and was elected class orator. He wrote his thesis on Aeschylus, the ancient Greek playwright.

In 1886, he was the first African American to graduate from the college. This was despite the fact that the will of the founder had forbidden black students.

Griffin worked for many years as a schoolteacher and principal. In later life, he studied medicine and opened a medical practice in Harlem.

Other notable school principals

Here are some other noted African American school principals:

Edna Griffin

  • Born: 1909
  • From: Des Moines, Iowa
  • Died: 2000

Edna Griffin graduated from Fisk University with an English degree and worked as a teacher in Des Moines, Iowa.

In 1948, she sat down with her one-year-old daughter and two friends at the Katz Drug Store. They ordered ice cream but were refused service.

Griffin led pickets and sit-ins against the company. She testified in the successful criminal case against the owner. She and her friends, John Bibbs and Leonard Hudson, took civil suits against Katz.

Griffin was awarded $1 by the all-white jury but precedent had now been set. This led to denial of service on grounds of race becoming illegal.

She was the first president of the local chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality and attended Martin Luther King’s March On Washington in 1963. She walked with other female activists such as Ella Baker.

Griffin In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Griffin surname from three 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 Griffin was in April 1867. Henry Griffin was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in April 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

One of the later entries was in June 1914. Lynch Griffin was a Private in the 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.

James W. Griffin

One of the earliest entries for Griffin was for James W. Griffin from Bangor, Maine. He enlisted in May 1862 at Boston when he was aged 22.

The record shows that James W. was assigned on October 1864 to the ship San Jacinto.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Mariner. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.

An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.

Wesley Griffin

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Philadelphia in May 1863. Wesley was aged 25 and was from Petersburg, Virginia.

He was assigned to the ship Penobscot on July 1865.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook/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.

Frank Griffin graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in January 1946. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Frank was from Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Jerrold Griffin came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated in August 1945 as a bomber pilot.

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