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  • Writer's pictureLynn Lovegreen

Black History in Alaska

Did you know that Alaska has a long heritage of Black history? It does!

As I said last year, among the first group of Americans to arrive in the Arctic were whalers in the 1840s, including Black crew members. Later, the first U. S. soldiers to protect the Klondike gold seekers were Black soldiers from Company L of the 24th Infantry.

Anyone who has driven the Alcan (Alaska Canada Highway) has seen the work of Black soldiers in World War II. And we have many notable Black Alaskans. Mahala Ashely Dickerson was the first Black lawyer in Alaska. Activists like Willard Bowman worked on equal rights for African Americans and Alaska Natives. Bettye Davis was a public servant who served on the Anchorage School Board and the Alaska State Legislature. We now have a school named after her, the Bettye Davis East High School in Anchorage.

Interested in learning more? The National Park Service published Black History in the Last Frontier by Ian Hartman, with a forward by Ed Wesley. I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn the full history of our state.

You can download a copy or see some of these stories at

cover of Black History in the Last Frontier by Ian C. Hartman with a forward by Ed Wesley,  with collage of photos

Plus, there’s a newer and more extensive book on the subject, published by the University of Washington Press! See Black Lives in Alaska by Ian Hartman and David Reamer, with a forward by Calvin E. Williams, at

Cover of Black Lives in Alaska: A History of African Americans in the Far Northwest, Ian C. Hartman and David Reamer, foreword by Calvin  E. Williams, photo of two smiling Black whalers in fur clothing

Together, we have a more accurate picture of Black history in Alaska.

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