Legislature Recognizes Black Soldiers’ Contributions to AK Highway
JUNEAU – The Alaska State Legislature passed a bill today formally recognizing the contributions of African American soldiers to the building of the Alaska Highway.
Senate Bill 46, sponsored by Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla), establishes October 25 of each year as African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the highway’s construction.
“Little recognition has been given to the African American soldiers who braved the elements and overcame discrimination to help build the Alaska Highway,” said Sen. Wilson. “We can’t change the past, but we can honor the men who helped pave the way on a project that would ultimately serve as a road to civil rights.”
In response to fears of a Japanese invasion, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942 to connect Alaska to the continental U.S.
Approximately one-third of the troops assembled by the Army Corps of Engineers to construct the ambitious project were African American, at a time when they faced overt racism and legal discrimination.
Three regiments of African-American engineers were involved in building the Alaska and Canadian portions of the highway: the 93rd Engineer General Service Regiments, the 95th Engineer General Service Regiments and the 97th Engineer General Service Regiment, the regiment responsible for building the Alaska portion of the highway.
On October 25, 1942, the 97th Engineer Regiment heading south met the white troops from the 18th Engineer Regiment heading north, completing the road’s last link.
The Alaska Highway is considered one of the biggest and most difficult construction projects ever completed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. It stretches 1,422 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction, Alaska, at a cost of $138 million dollars (approximately $2 billion in 2017 dollars).
SB 46 has been transmitted to the governor and awaits his signature to be signed into law.