Black History and Culture

Black History in Alaska
People, Places

In 1942, the only way to reach Alaska was by air or sea.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and fearing an invasion of Alaska, President Roosevelt authorized the building of a road that would link Alaska to the continental US through Canada.

The highway, originally called the Alaska-Canada Highway or Alcan, stretches 1,520 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada to Delta Junction, Alaska.

More than 10,000 soldiers from the Army Corp of Engineers were assigned to the project, including four regiments of African American Engineers from the 93rd Engineer General Service Regiment, the 95th Engineer General Service Regiment, the 97th Engineer General Service Regiment, and the 388th Engineer Battalion, which was assigned to the oil pipeline that was needed to supply gasoline to planes, military vehicles and construction equipment.

The Alaska Highway, as it is called today was completed in just over eight months and is considered one of the biggest and most difficult construction projects ever undertaken.

   
1942 Scenes from the Alcan Highway
Crew working on the highway (left) Camp along the highway (center) Stretch of the highway (right)

Notables and Black Firsts in Alaska

John Bollin, Jr. 

Served in the all-Black 93rd Engineer General Service Regiment on the Alcan Highway.  He is featured in an interview in the PBS documentary Building the Alaska Highway.

William E Griggs

Served in the all-Black 97th Engineer General Service Regiment on the Alcan Highway and was the unit's photographer.  His book, The World War II Black Regiment That Built the Alaska Military Highway: A Photographic History, documents a Black regiment's contribution to safeguarding Alaska from Japanese invasion.

Hayward Oubre 

Served in the all-Black 97th Engineer General Service Regiment on the Alcan Highway.  He later became an artist and received a Master in Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa.  He taught at Florida A&M, Alabama State College and Winston Salem State University where he served as head of the art department. 
He was featured in an interview in the PBS documentary Building the Alaska Highway.


African Americans in Alaska Politics

Blanche Louise Preston McSmith 

First African American to serve in the Alaska House of Representatives.

James C Hayes 

First African American to serve as mayor of an Alaskan city.  He served as mayor of Fairbanks from 1992 to 2001.
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