Mills As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 25,481 black Americans with Mills as their last name. That represented 17% of the total of 151,942 entries.

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

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

Mills 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 Mills 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 259 people named Mills who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 221 were recorded as mixed.

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

There was a total of 17,928 free citizens named Mills 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.

3,401 people named Mills were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 708 as mixed.

There was a total of 29,507 people with the name.

Mills 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 7,610 people with the last name Mills as black within a total of 51,279 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 10,701 people named Mills as black within a total of 82,191.

Historic Black Figures With The Mills Surname

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

Althea Mills

  • Born: 1924
  • From: Pughsville, Virginia
  • Died: 2008

When Althea Margaret Mills she moved to Polk County, she became one of the first black postal workers in the region. The senior management tried to force her out of her career by transferring her to other stations.

But Mills was undaunted. She eventually became a station manager.

As a teenager, Althea had attended an integrated school in Pennsylvania. When her son attended school in Florida, Mills was unhappy with the education at his segregated school.

She had no issue with the teachers but noted the many missing pages from the textbooks.

In 1963, Mills sued the Polk County School District so that her son could have his choice of school.

Her lawsuit eventually led to school desegregation in the county. The county has since renamed a postal office in her honor.

Earlier lawsuits against school segregation

It’s a little depressing that Althea took her case over a hundred years after the earliest lawsuits.

Benjamin Roberts sued the City of Boston in 1848 on behalf of his daughter, but lost. This was the first anti-school segregation case in U.S. history.

Alexander Clark won his case in Iowa in 1867. This led to school desegregation in that state.

Charles Wade Mills

  • Born: 1951
  • From: London, England
  • Died: 2021

Charles Mills was born in London but his Jamaican parents returned to Kingston, Jamaia, when he was a child. He completed his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Toronto in 1985.

Mill’s seminal work was “The Racial Contract”, published in 1997. He argued that the classic theories of social contracts were based on white domination.

Aside from his contributions to philosophy, Mills was renowned as a mentor to young black philosophers.

Mills In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Mills surname from three different military services:

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • Tuskegee airmen

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 Mills was in 1871. John Mills was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1871 at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

One of the later entries was in 1913. Archie Mills was a Sergeant in the 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.

David Mills

One of the earliest entries for Mills was for David Mills from Long Island, New York. He enlisted in 1862 at New York when he was aged 20.

The record shows that David was assigned on January 1862 to the ship Arletta.

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

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

John Mills

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Doboy Sound in 1864. John was aged 22 and was from Macintosh County, Georgia.

He was assigned to the ship A. Houghton on April 1865.

His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

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

Tuskegee Airmen

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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.

Clinton Mills graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in January 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Clinton was from Durham, North Carolina.

His combat credits said:

Downed 1 Fw-190 on February 7, 1944

Theodore Mills came from New Rochelle, New York. He graduated in November 1943 as a fighter pilot.

You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.