West As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 36,187 black Americans with West as their last name. That represented 18% of the total of 195,818 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named West.

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.

5,480 people named West were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 884 as mixed.

There was a total of 37,476 people with the name.

West 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 10,921 people with the last name West as black within a total of 64,289 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 13,887 people named West as black within a total of 104,448.

Historic Black Figures With The West Surname

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

Dorothy West

  • Born: 1907
  • From: Boston, Massachussetts
  • Died: 1998

Dorothy West’s father, Isaac, was a former slave who became a successful fruit wholesaler in Boston. When her parents divorced, her mother moved the family to Harlem. Dorothy had her first short story published when she was fourteen. At seventeen, she tied for second place with Zora Neale Hurston in a short story contest.

In the 1920s, Dorothy was one of the youngest members of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance after the First World War was a period when African American art, literature, and music flourished around Harlem.

Painters, poets, writers, and musicians established a creative hub of black culture in the United States. The movement was hugely influential on the development of black literature and art through the twentieth century and today.

The writer Langston Hughes used to affectionately call Dorothy “the Kid”. She actually proposed to Hughes who politely declined. She edited several literary magazines that published the work of the leading black authors of the day. Her own short stories were published in the New York Daily News and the New Yorker.

West moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1945 where she started her first novel, The Living Is Easy, about a middle-class black family. It was published in 1948.

Nearly fifty years later, her second novel was published in 1995. “The Wedding” was both critically acclaimed and a best-seller, a rare combination.

Gladys West

  • Born: 1930
  • From: Sutherland, Virginia

Gladys Brown was born into a sharecropping family and worked as a child on the farm. But she also excelled at school and graduated as valedictorian in 1948. By taking first place, she got a full scholarship to Virginia State College where she studied mathematics.

She taught for a few years after graduating before joining the Naval Warfare Center in Dahlgren as a computer programmer for satellite systems. She was one of only four black employees. Ira West was another and they married in 1957.

In the 1960s, she was a project manager for important satellite and radar projects. Her work in the 1970s and 1980s with the giant IBM machines was the genesis for the Global Positioning System (GPS). Gladys West was inducted into the U.S. Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.

West In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of information for family history research. Here are examples of the West surname from military service.

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 West was in November 1867. James West was a Bugler in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in November 1867 at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory.

One of the later entries was in May 1915. Albert B. West was a Private in the U.S. 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.

Charles West

One of the earliest entries for West was for Charles West from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in July 20 1859 at Philadelphia when he was aged 19.

The record shows that Charles was assigned on January 1 1900 to the ship .

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

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

John West

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Norfolk in September 17 1863. John was aged 22 and was from Norfolk, Virginia.

He was assigned to the ship Wyandotte on March 31 1864.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook/Steward. His naval rank was Officers Cook.