African Americans from Grand Rapids who were part of the US Civil War

(As always, we are grateful for the assistance of the staff at the Grand Rapids Public Library, particularly those on 4th floor.)

In reading the book, African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids (Randal Maurice Jelks), one realizes that the number of black people living in Grand Rapids was very small in the 19th century.

We recently came across a document from the archives of Paul I Phillips at the Grand Rapids Library. One document is headlined, The Negro in Grand Rapids 1840 – 1956. That document offers some census data on the number of African Americans living in Grand Rapids in the 19th century. It states that there were 9 in 1854 and 48 in 1870.

While we don’t have an exact number of African Americans living in Grand Rapids during the US Civil War, it is astounding to note that, based on the document from the Paul I Phillips archive, that the Michigan Governor (Austin Blair) was asked to enlist black soldiers for the Union Army in 1863. At total of 1600 volunteered from Michigan, with 30 coming from Grand Rapids. Again, we don’t have an exact number of African Americans living in Grand Rapids at that time, but if there were only 48 living in this city in 1870, the fact that 30 black men enlisted to fight in the US Civil War is pretty amazing.

Here is a list of those that signed up:

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