Legislature passes bill recognizing Black Americans’ efforts in AK Highway construction

Pvt. Refines Simms Jr., a bulldozer operator with the Army’s 97th Engineer Battalion, exchanges a handshake with Pvt. Alfred Jalufka, an operator with the 18th Engineer Brigade, when soldiers working from the north and south met Oct. 25, 1942 at Contact Creek, Yukon Territory – some eight months after work on the highway began. (Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Alaska Highway Project)

The Alaska legislature today passed a bill formally recognizing the contributions of Black Americans in building the Alaska Highway 75 years ago. The bill, proposed by Wasilla Republican David Wilson, establishes October 25th as African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day. That date marks the day workers completed the last link of the project in 1942.

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Wilson said historically, little recognition had been given to the Black Americans who, despite facing overt racism and legal discrimination in the country at the time, comprised a third of the workers who built the highway. The Alaska Highway remains one of the largest construction undertakings conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“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,” Wilson said.

Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org

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