The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 36,978 black Americans with Russell as their last name. That represented 17% of the total of 221,558 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Russell in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Russell 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 Russell 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 241 people named Russell who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 104 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 18,168 free citizens named Russell 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.
3,164 people named Russell were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 772 as mixed.
There was a total of 35,551 people with the name.
Russell 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 7,984 people with the last name Russell as black within a total of 69,023 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 14,679 people named Russell as black within a total of 128,459.
Historic Black Figures
Here are some notable African American people in history with Russell as their last name.
Charles Thaddeus Russell
- Born: 1875
- From: Richmond, Virginia
- Died: 1952
Charles Thaddeus Russell taught carpentry at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This was where he learned drafting and architecture from the architects working on the campus buildings.
Russell got his architect license in Virginia in 1902 and established his own practice. He hired mostly black workers to build the commercial buildings he designed in the Jackson Ward area.
When the black businesswoman Maggie Walker launched a bank, she commissioned Russell to design the building in 1910.
His other buildings include the Rialto Theatre in Petersburg and several churches in the region.
- Born: 1930
- From: Atlanta, Georgia
- Died: 2014
Herman Russell worked in his teens as a plasterer and paid to study at Tuskegee University. He took over his father’s business in 1952 and built it up into a highly successful construction company.
If you don’t associate his name with the Civil Rights movement, it’s because he chose to stay behind the scenes. He was a close associate of Dr Martin Luther King who was a regular visitor to his home.
Russell provided crucial funding to support the legal costs of civic protesting. That included bail and bonds.
Other successful African Americans in business
Here are some highly successful black entrepreneurs and business people from the 19th and 20th centuries.
- JT Allen of Rhode Island
- Sally Campbell of the Black Hills
- Annie Fisher of Missouri
- Madam C J Walker of Louisiana
Russell In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Russell 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 Russell was in July 1868. Anthony Russell was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in July 1868 at Fort Wallace, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in April 1915. Henry Russell was a Corporal 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 Russell was for John Russell from Ellis Village, Virginia. He enlisted in July 1862 at Hampton Roads when he was aged 21.
The record shows that John was assigned on April 1864 to the ship Charles Phelps.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Philadelphia in May 1863. Stephen was aged 26 and was from Kent County, Maryland.
He was assigned to the ship Bermuda on July 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook/Carpenter. 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.
James Russell graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1945. He qualified as a bomber pilot. James was from Los Angeles, California.