The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 24,692 black Americans with Lawson as their last name. That represented 21% of the total of 119,053 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Lawson in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Lawson 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 Lawson 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 178 people named Lawson who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 33 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 6,781 free citizens named Lawson 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.
2,740 people named Lawson were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 400 as mixed.
There was a total of 14,791 people with the name.
Lawson 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 6,027 people with the last name Lawson as black within a total of 31,754 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 8,192 people named Lawson as black within a total of 57,087.
Historic Black Figures With The Lawson Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Lawson as their last name.
- Born: 1901
- From: Roanoke, Virginia
- Died: 1985
Belford Lawson was a talented football player at the University of Michigan and coached at Jackson State University before he qualified as a lawyer in 1932.
Lawson co-founded the New Negro Alliance the following year to organize a boycott of white-owned businesses that wouldn’t hire black employees.
When threatened with injunctions of their pickets, Lawson was joined by Thurgood Marshall to argue the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lawson won the case in 1938 with the court ruling on the right to boycott. He was the first African American to win in the Supreme Court.
Two years later, he joined a group of lawyers in a case against segregation on the Southern Railway. This led to integrated dining cars.
In his later life, Lawson was elected the first black president of the YMCA in 1973.
Other black lawyers in the Supreme Court
Here are some other black pioneering lawyers who argued early cases in the U.S. Supreme Court:
Cases of Thurgood Marshall
The renowned civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall worked on many important legal challenges against discrimination.
He worked with notable black activists including:
- Born: 1912
- From: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Died: 2002
Marjorie McKenzie got her degree and masters from the University of Michigan and completed a law degree at Terrell Law School in 1939.
Belford Lawson was teaching law at Terrell and they married after Marjorie graduated.
Both lawyers worked closely on civil rights cases. Marjorie focused on real estate and housing legislation. John F. Kennedy used Lawson as his representative at meetings with black organizations from 1957.
The President appointed her as a judge in 1962, making her the first African American woman to serve in the role in D.C.
Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent her to the U.N. to serve on the Economic and Social Council.
Lawson In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are some examples of the Lawson surname from several different military services.
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 Lawson was in 1867. Asa Lawson was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Hays, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1910. Gillespie Lawson 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
John Henry Lawson was one of eight black U.S. Navy sailors who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage under fire during the Battle of Mobile Bay in Alabama, 1864.
He was a member of the ship’s deck ammunition party on board the USS Hartford. He was seriously wounded from a shell strike, but remained at his post and continued to supply the guns.
This picture shows him in later life, proudly wearing his medals.
Researching black Navy history
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 Lawson was for Zachariah Lawson from Apalachiola, Florida. He enlisted in 1863 at Key West when he was just eleven years of age.
The record shows that Zachariah was mustered in December 1863 to the ship Pursuit.
His naval rank was 2nd Class Boy. This referred to boys who signed up when they were under eighteen.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Mobile Bay in August 1864. William Lawson was aged thirty and was from Westmoreland, Virginia.
He was assigned to the ship Tennessee in March 1865.
His naval rank was Coal Heaver. This rank heaved the coal into the furnace in the boiler room of the ships.