The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 32,334 black Americans with Perkins as their last name. That represented 25% of the total of 131,440 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Perkins in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Perkins 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 Perkins 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 175 people named Perkins who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 146 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 18,255 free citizens named Perkins 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.
4,868 people named Perkins were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 849 as mixed.
There was a total of 30,005 people with the name.
Perkins 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 10,492 people with the last name Perkins as black within a total of 47,545 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 13,333 people named Perkins as black within a total of 71,129.
Historic Black Figures With The Perkins Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Perkins as their last name.
George Napier Perkins
- Born: 1842
- From: Williamson County, Tennessee
- Died: 1914
George Perkins was born into slavery. He joined the Union army during the Civil War and was a sergeant by the time he was discharged.
By studying law at night, Perkins was called to the Arkansas bar in 1871. He became a justice of the peace and an alderman in Little Rock. He was a strong proponent for equality.
Perkins moved to Oklahoma in 1890 and got involved again in politics. Always looking for ways to promote civil rights, Perkins bought the Oklahoma Guide newspaper.
The paper advocated for civil rights legislation. It was the longest-running black-owned weekly newspaper in the territory.
- Born: 1933
- From: Owensboro, Kentucky
- Died: 1976
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.
Some, like Joe Perkins, were more seasoned activists.
After Joe Perkins graduated from Kentucky State University in 1954, he spent two years in the army. The young man then enrolled in the University of Michigan as a postgraduate.
Joe got involved in civil rights activities to support anti-segregation in the Southern states. He joined CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) in 1960 and was renowned for his organizational skills.
He worked with background organizers like Johnnie Daniels Carr to prepare the freedom riders in 1961.
Joe himself joined the first of the freedom rides. He was arrested when he sat down at a whites-only shoeshine chair in Charlotte, North Carolina.
When Perkins got out of jail, he was a leader on the Greyhound bus from Washington D.D. to New Orleans. A mob intercepted the bus in Anniston, Alabama, and dragged the riders out.
They beat the young activists with pipes and burned the bus. Photographs of the bus in flames became iconic and did much to turn public opinion in favor of the movement.
Perkins In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Perkins 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 Perkins was in 1867. Thomas Perkins was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1915. Edward Perkins was a Wagoner in the Tenth 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 Perkins was for Bartlett Perkins from Lexington County, Kentucky. He enlisted in 1863 at St Louis when he was aged 23.
The record shows that Bartlett was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Choctaw.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.
An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Natchez in 1864. George was aged 14 and was from Port Gibson, Mississippi.
He was assigned to the ship Samson on March 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fieldhand. 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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Sanford Perkins graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in January 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Sanford was from Denver, Colorado.
Roscoe Perkins came from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He graduated in May 1945 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.