The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 96,909 black Americans with James as their last name. That represented 39% of the total of 249,379 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named James in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
James 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 James 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 839 people named James who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 324 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 19,755 free citizens named James 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.
10,985 people named James were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,336 as mixed.
There was a total of 42,941 people with the name.
James 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 24,505 people named James as black within a total of 78,676 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 38,937 people named James as black within a total of 136,711.
Historic Black Figures With The James Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with James as their last name.
Lillie Anna James
- Born: 1876
- From: Pensecola, Florida
- Died: 1957
Lillie Anna Brown was born in Pensecola, Florida, and never left her home area. She married Daniel James in 1894.
Known as “Mother” James, she refused to send her children to the local segregated schools. She was a high school graduate and she considered the nearest schools to be of low quality.
She founded her own private school for black children in the area. It was called the “Lillie Anna James Private School” and the motto was “thou shalt not quit”.
Mother James charged a tiny fee to local black families to send their children to her back yard for schooling.
Other pioneering black educators
Here is just a selection of other black educators on this website:
- Born: 1920
- From: Pensecola, Florida
- Died: 1978
One of the pupils of the Lillie Anna James Public School was her son Daniel “Chappie” James.
After graduating college, Daniel James trained pilots during WWI and flew combat missions in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He became the first black four-star general in 1975. He died of a heart attack three years later. Papers like the Washington Post carried his obituary.
- Born: 1923
- From: Charleston, West Virginia
- Died: 1989
Grace Marilynn James qualified as a doctor in 1950 In Nashville and completed a pediatric residency at Harlem Hospital, New York.
She moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and opened a pediatrics clinic that served impoverished black communities.
Dr. Grace James was the first African American physician to teach at the school of medicine at the University of Louisville.
She was an advocate for poor unmarried mothers and served as president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP.
Other black pioneers in medicine
Here are some other pioneers in health and medicine.
- Caroline Still Anderson, qualified as a doctor in 1879
- Rebecca Cole, qualified as a doctor in 1867
- Ida Gray, qualified as a dentist in 1890
Other notable African Americans in Louisville
Here are some other notable figures who were born or lived in Louisville:
James In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the James 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 James was in 1866.
Henry James was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1915. Edward James was a Corporal 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 don’t 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 James was for Charles James from Jay, New York. He enlisted in 1861 aged 27.
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 in 1863. John was aged 19 and was from Richmond, Virginia.
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 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. The photograph above shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Daniel James graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Daniel was from Pensacola, Florida.
Voris James came from San Antonio, Texas. He trained as a bomber pilot and graduated in 1944.
You can find a full set of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.