McDonald As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 31189 black Americans with McDonald as their last name. That represented 17% of the total of 180,497 entries.

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

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.

2,440 people named McDonald were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 319 as mixed.

There was a total of 42,889 people with the name.

You may know that the McDonald name has old European origins. If you’re curious, we have a separate article on the reasons why some African Americans have Scottish surnames.

McDonald 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 5,733 people with the last name McDonald as black within a total of 81,329 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 10,754 people named McDonald as black within a total of 112,275.

Historic Black Figures With The McDonald Surname

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

Mary McDonald

  • Born: 1770
  • From: Frogtown, Pennsylvania
  • Died: 1906

The dates above aren’t a typo. The census records for this extraordinary lady indicate that she was 135 years old when she died!

She was a mere 117 when she entered the Home for Aged & Infirm Colored Persons on Belmont Avenue in 1887. She was known to all as “Grandmother”.

Mary regaled her listeners with tales of the Revolutionary War, and how the local Philadelphia women gave provisions to the patriot soldiers.

Jimmy McDonald

  • Born: 1931
  • From: New York City
  • Died: 2000

The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on segregated buses in the South from 1961. They sat in mixed groups to challenge seating segregation.

If they weren’t arrested on the bus, they would disembark and sit in segregated cafes and terminals.

The activists endured violent arrests from local police who would also let gathering mobs attack them. Many of the Freedom Riders were young college students.

The original group of thirteen male and female Freedom Riders set off on 4th May 1961 on two buses from Washington D.C. to New Orleans. Jimmy McDonald, a folk singer from New York, was one of that number. He was known for his repertoire of protest songs.

McDonald had been involved in civil rights campaigns with CORE in the late 1950s. He jumped at the chance to join the Freedom Rides for the adventure.

McDonald was known to be somewhat skeptical about the effectiveness of non-violence. But the leadership valued the singer for his bohemian high spirits. On a tense night before the first Freedom Ride, McDonald led the group in a rousing set of freedom songs.

On the day itself, McDonald was one of the group led by Joe Perkins on the Greyhound Bus. This bus was infamously fire-bombed by a mob just outside Anniston. The picture of the burning bus made headlines around the world. It was just the start of the Freedom Rides.

McDonald In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the McDonald 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 McDonald was in November 1883. Robert McDonald was a Farrier in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in November 1883 at Toyah, Texas.

One of the later entries was in June 1916. Samuel McDonald was a Corporal 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.

McDonald In The Freedmen’s Bureau Records

The Freedmen’s Bureau was established after the Civil War to help newly freed African Americans. You can read more in our article on researching the Freedmen archives.

There are over 1,190 records for McDonald in the archives. Here are some of the first names:

  • Amanda
  • Lucinda
  • Reilly
  • Thurman