The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 129,570 black Americans with Wright as their last name. That represented 28% of the total of 458,980 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Wright in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Wright 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 Wright 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 1,023 people named Wright who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 429 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 47,016 free citizens named Wright 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.
13,973 people named Wright were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,856 as mixed.
There was a total of 84,986 people with the name.
Wright 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 31,777 people with the last name Wright as black within a total of 148,560 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 48,231 people named Wright as black within a total of 239,426.
Historic Black Figures
Here are some notable African American people in history with Wright as their last name.
- Born: 1797
- From: Providence, Rhode Island
- Died: 1847
Theodore Wright’s parents were free residents of Rhode Island. Theodore attended the Princeton Theological Seminary where he was the first African American to graduate in 1829. He became a minister at a black Presbyterian Church in Harlem.
Wright co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, although he left it as he didn’t agree with having women in prominent positions in the movement. He also clashed with Frederick Douglass as Wright was in favor of violent rebellion during one period in his life.
Wright turned his home into a refuge for fugitive slaves fleeing from the South. He was a conductor for the Underground Railroad for many years.
The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and travel routes organized by many church and community leaders, civil rights activists, and abolitionists. Thousands of enslaved people were helped to escape from the South.
More firsts for historic African Americans
Here are some more black men and women who were pioneers in their fields:
Richard Robert Wright
- Born: 1855
- From: Dalton, Georgia
- Died: 1947
Richard Robert Wright was ten when he and his mother were freed by Emancipation. He was valedictorian at Atlanta University in 1876. He was an active member of the Georgia Republican Party.
Wright became one of the great leaders for education for the African American community. He was President of the first HBCU in Georgia, which is now the Savannah State University. Wright grew his college from eight students to four hundred.
In 1898, Wright was appointed as the first black U.S. Army paymaster.
In his later years, Wright opened a bank in Philadelphia. It was the first black-owned bank in the North.
His son, Richard Wright Jr, became president of Ohio’s Wilberforce University. His daughter Edwina married Joseph Mitchell, a newspaper publisher.
- Born: 1908
- From: Roxie, Mississippi
- Died: 1960
Richard Wright had a tough family upbringing in Mississippi and missed a lot of schooling. However, he graduated as class valedictorian in 1925.
Richard borrowed books from the segregated local library by pretending he was acting on behalf of a white reader.
When he moved to Chicago, he founded a left-wing literary magazine and published his first short story in 1936. He joined the American Communist Party although would later split with them over their stance on segregation.
His 1938 collection of short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children, was a critical success. His novel, Native Son, was the first book by a black author that was selected by the Book of the Month Club. The play version was directed by Orson Scott Welles.
His memoir, Black Boy, was published in 1945. He moved to France the following year.
Wright travelled through Africa and Indonesia and wrote several novels and short story collections. He was very critical of American policy in Africa.
Other notable African American communists
The U.S. Communist Party was one of the few political organizations in the first half of the twentieth century that openly condemned racial segregation and discrimination. This drew black activists and intellectuals into the folder. Here are some others who were members at some point:
Wright In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Wright 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 Wright was in February 1867. Thomas Wright was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in February 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in May 1915. Otto Wright was a Trumpeter in the Tenth Cavalry. The photo above shows several soldiers from the regiment.
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 Wright was for Anthony Wright from Hackensack, New Jersey. He enlisted in October 1863 at New York when he was aged 22.
The record shows that Anthony was assigned on April 1864 to the ship Crusader.
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 New York in April 1864. Isaac was aged 39 and was from East Hampton, Long Island.
He was assigned to the ship Heliotrope on January 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Mariner. His naval rank was Seaman.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
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. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Hiram Wright graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Hiram was from Los Angeles, California.
Sandy Wright came from Berkeley, California. He graduated in September 1945 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.