The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 124,971 black Americans with Miller as their last name. That represented 11% of the total of 1,161,437 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Miller in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Miller 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 Miller 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 1,670 people named Miller who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 549 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 114,957 free citizens named Miller 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.
16,500 people named Miller were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 2,512 as mixed.
There was a total of 225,725 people with the name.
Miller 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 34,038 people with the last name Miller as black within a total of 416,261 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 48,349 people named Miller as black within a total of 672,488.
Historic Black Figures With The Miller Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Miller as their last name.
- Born: 1803
- From: Hartford, Connecticut
- Died: 1879
Maria Miller was born to free parents in Connecticut but was orphaned at a young age. She grew up as a servant to a clergyman’s family.
She married a shipping agent named James Stewart in 1826 but he died three years later. His executors cut her out of her husband’s estate.
This injustice led Maria to take up the cause of rights for African American women.
An eloquent speaker, she also made speeches against slavery. She is the first known black woman to have done so in public. Her speeches were published in the abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator.
Maria Miller Stewart eventually moved to Washington D.C. where she was head matron of a hospital that would become the medical school of Howard University.
More firsts for historic African Americans
Here are some more black men and women who were pioneers in their fields:
- Born: 1919
- From: Waco, Texas
- Died: 1943
Doris “Dorie” Miller was given his first name because his mother’s midwife was convinced that he would be a girl. A well-built young man, he was a high school fullback.
He worked on his father’s farm until he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939. Miller’s ranking was as a mess attendant, which means that he worked in the kitchens and laundry. He was also the heavyweight boxing champion on the battleship West Virginia.
On the 7th December 1941, Japanese planes attacked his ship. Miller rushed to the deck and was assigned to carry wounded sailors to safety.
But he joined a lieutenant and ensign in loading two anti-aircraft machine guns. The Lieutenant fired one of the guns and Miller fired the other. Later, he was credited with downing two planes.
It took a campaign by black newspapers and the NAACP in 1942 to ensure that Miller was awarded the appropriate military honor.
It took a while, but he was awarded the Navy Cross. This is the official citation:
For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.
While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.Navy Cross Citation
He died in 1943 when his ship was sunk by a submarine during the Battle of Makin.
Miller In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Miller 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 Miller was in June 1867. Alexander Miller was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in June 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Harrisburg, and Pennsylvania.
One of the later entries was in June 1914. Emanuel Miller was a Sergeant 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
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 Miller was for Washington Miller from Campbell County, Kentucky. He enlisted in December 1862 at Cincinnati when he was aged 38.
The record shows that Washington was assigned on April 1863 to the ship Linden.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 2nd Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in September 1864. Charles was aged 19 and was from New York City, New York.
He was assigned to the ship Muscoota on June 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
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 (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Oliver Miller graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Oliver was from Battle Creek, Michigan.
George Miller came from DesMoines, Iowa. He graduated in August 1945 as a bomber pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.