Keys As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 8,289 black Americans with Keys as their last name. That represented 44% of the total of 18,899 entries.

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

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.

573 people named Keys were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 115 as mixed.

There was a total of 4,506 people with the name.

Keys 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 1,919 people with the last name Keys as black within a total of 7,140 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 3,153 people named Keys as black within a total of 9,952.

Historic Black Figures With The Keys Surname

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

Mary Keys

  • Born: 1854
  • From: Mississippi
  • Died: 1952

Mary Keys was born into slavery in 1854 on a Mississippi plantation. Her family moved to Texas after emancipation where she married the Reverend Franklin Gibson. The couple settled in Fort Worth where they founded an Episcopalian church.

Gibson worked as a midwife in the town. As the nursing colleges in Texas did not accept African Americans, Gibson pursued a nursing degree by correspondence. She graduated in 1907.

The 53-year-old was the first black accredited nurse in the South. Gibson spent her long life working to improve nursing standards and to desegregate the profession.

Sarah Louise Keys

  • Born: 1928
  • From: Keysville, North Carolina

Sarah Louise Keys grew up on a farm in North Carolina. Her father had served in the Navy during WWI. When Sarah finished school, she worked in New Jersey where she saw a military recruitment advert for women. She enlisted in 1951 and was stationed as part of the Women’s Army Corps at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

The following year, she was making the bus journey from Trenton in Jersey to her family in North Carolina. The segregation laws meant that she had the right to sit anywhere as this was a direct bus (no changes) from the North. She sat in the middle to be away from the bumpier hotter rear section.

When the bus changed drivers at Roanoke Rapids at midnight, the new driver woke Sarah up to demand that she change her seat to accommodate a white marine. Sarah refused to move. She was arrested, jailed, and fined.

Sarah’s father supported her in taking a legal challenge. She was represented by the renowned black attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree. By the time the case went to court, Sarah had married George Evans.

In 1955, she won her case. Months later, Rosa Parks was arrested for the same offense in Montgomery, Alabama.

Keys In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the Keys 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 Keys was in April 1877. James Keys was a Private in the U.S. Ninth Cavalry. He was stationed in April 1877 at Fort Garland, Colorado.

One of the later entries was in May 1902. Joseph Keys was a Private in the U.S. 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.

Erhharg Keys

One of the earliest entries for Keys was for Erhharg Keys from Monroe Co., Mississippi. He enlisted in January 1 1900 at Chillicothe when he was aged 22.

The record shows that Erhharg was assigned on July 1 1864 to the ship Neosho.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Blacksmith. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.