Black History in the Last Frontier

Black History in the Last Frontier (An NPS and University of Alaska Anchorage Publication)

by Ian Hartman With a Forward by Ed Wesley

We are pleased to share with you Black History in the Last Frontier, published in 2020 and prepared by historian Dr. Ian Hartman through a partnership with the University of Alaska Anchorage and the National Park Service Alaska Regional Office. The book illuminates historical records and oral histories of African Americans who have worked and lived in Alaska for over 150 years – hunting for whales, patrolling the seas, building roads, serving in the military, opening businesses, winning political office, and forging communities.

Black History in the Last Frontier and the seven short companion stories featured below highlight the achievements and contributions of Alaska’s Black community, while demonstrating how these women and men have endured racism, fought injustice, and made a life and home for themselves in the forty-ninth state.

Black and white photo of two Black whalers standing and posing for the camera.
Black Whalers in the Arctic

Black whalers were among the first Americans to reach Alaska, specifically its southeast panhandle in the early 1840s.

Black and white photo of Captain Michael A. Healy standing with a group of passengers on the deck of
Michael Healy (1839-1904)

Captain Michael A. Healy on deck (fifth from the right in the light sealskin jacket) of the U.S. Revenue Cutter 'Rush' with passengers.

Photo of Dickerson outdoors and smiling.
Mahala Ashley Dickerson (1912-2007)

The Alaska Territory's first Black lawyer and first Black homesteader.

Black and white photo of six troops in Company L standing next to three large halibut fish hanging f
Company L, 24th Infantry

Black soldiers were among the first members of the United States military to arrive in Alaska on the heels of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Black and white photo showing Thomas Bevers and a large group of men from his Fire Department Crew,
Thomas Stokes Bevers (1889-1944)

Thomas Bevers was active in Anchorage’s civic life, volunteering as a firefighter, working as a blacksmith, and founding the Fur Rendezvous.

Black and white photo showing Fred Spencer with ten other men in uniform, one row of men is kneeling
Alaska Highway Engineers (1942)

The troops encountered strenuous conditions, including unreliable supplies of food and necessities, and frequent equipment failures.

Black and white portrait of Willard Bowman sitting at a desk and talking on the telephone.
Willard Bowman (1919-1975)

Bowman’s work with the Human Rights Commission led him to advocate on behalf of African Americans and Alaska Natives.

Last updated: March 23, 2021