Little As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 25,700 black Americans with Little as their last name. That represented 24% of the total of 105,936 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Little in the last three centuries.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

Little 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 Little 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 174 people named Little who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 64 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.

There was a total of 12,242 free citizens named Little 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.

2,807 people named Little were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 318 as mixed.

There was a total of 21,028 people with the name.

Little 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 6,295 people with the last name Little as black within a total of 36,042 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 9,970 people named Little as black within a total of 58,488.

Historic Black Figures With The Little Surname

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

Nancy Little

  • Born: Early 1800s
  • From: Virginia

The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and travel routes organized by many church and community leaders, civil rights activists, and abolitionists.

Thousands of enslaved people were helped to escape from the South.

William Still kept substantial notes on fugitives who were helped on their way through Philadelphia. He published the notes in a book in 1872.

Nancy Little was one of over twenty fugitive slaves who were smuggled to freedom on a schooner from the South to Philadelphia.

The book describes a dangerous situation when the ship was berthed in Norfolk. The mayor arrived on board with a posse armed with axes.

Thankfully, the captain outwitted the searchers and got his cargo to safety. You can read the full account in our excerpt on an escape by ship on The Underground Railroad.

Malcolm Little

  • Born: 1925
  • From: Omaha, Nebraska
  • Died: 1965

Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X when he joined the Nation of Islam. The X represents the African name of his unknown ancestors. He was one of the leaders in the organization through the 1950s.

Malcolm X also adopted the names Malik el-Shabazz and Malcolm Shabazz.

Malcolm and the Nation of Islam had more extreme views than more mainstream activists like Martin Luther King. They believed in the separation of the races and rejected King’s principles of non-violence.

Malcolm fell out with Elijah Muhammed, the main leader, in the early 1960s. He left in 1964 and relations remained hostile. He was assassinated in 1965.

Little In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Little surname from several military services.

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 Little was in May 1867. William Little was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1867 at Buffalo Creek, Kansas.

One of the later entries was in August 1914. Greg Little was a Private in the Ninth 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.

Samuel Little

One of the earliest entries for Little was for Samuel Little from Princeton, New Jersey. He enlisted in August 1864 at New Bedford when he was aged 23.

The record shows that Samuel was assigned on October 1864 to the ship Luka.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook & Steward. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

Alfred Little

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in November 1863. Alfred was aged 18 and was from New York.

He was assigned to the ship Hendrick Hudson on March 1864.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.