The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 60,985 black Americans with Powell as their last name. That represented 27% of the total of 224,874 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Powell.
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.
6,221 people named Powell were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 979 as mixed.
There was a total of 32,956 people with the name.
Powell 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 13,311 people with the last name Powell as black within a total of 62,471 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 21,243 people named Powell as black within a total of 115,331.
Historic Black Figures With The Powell Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Powell as their last name.
William J. Powell
- Born: 1897
- From: Henderson, Kentucky
- Died: 1942
William J. Powell was studying electrical engineering at the University Of Illinois when World War 1 started. He enlisted but returned when wounded by poison gas.
Powell enrolled in the Los Angeles School of Flight in 1928, three years after the renowned black aviator Bessie Coleman had died in a plane crash.
He founded a flight school named in her honor. Some of his income came from taking notables like Joe Louis and Duke Ellington on flights. Powell trained black pilots and mechanics and sponsored an African American air show.
William R. Powell
- Born: About 1928
- From: Texas
- Died: 2013
Both of William R. Powell’s parents were schoolteachers who instilled a devotion to education in their son.
William became a schoolteacher and principal in Lubbock, Texas. He was appointed Assistant Dean at Sam Houston State University in 1972. He was the first black administrator at the establishment.
He was promoted to Associate Dean of the Student Life Office five years later and held the role until he retired ten years later. He was hugely influential in developing the student judicial system.
He was also known as a wise and kind counselor to students in difficulties. The university named their new health and counseling center in his honor in 2015.
Powell In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Powell 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 Powell was in June 1872. Joseph Powell was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in June 1872 at Camp Supply, Indian Territory.
One of the later entries was in May 1914. Theodore Powell was a Private 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.
George H. Powell
One of the earliest entries for Powell was for George H. Powell from Blooming Grove, New York. He enlisted in November 1862 at New York when he was aged 21.
The record shows that George H. was assigned on October 1864 to the ship Mattabesett.
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.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Cairo in January 1863. Andrew was aged 16 and was from New Madrid, Missouri.
He was assigned to the ship Lafayette on July 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer/Servant. His naval rank was 3rd Class Boy.
“3rd Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who were under eighteen when they enlisted.
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.
William Powell graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in April 1945. He qualified as a fighter pilot. William was from Eggertsville, New York.