By Congressman Don Young
February 01, 2007
Presently, I am a member of the Alaska chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). I have always been a strong supporter of the advancement of not just people of color, but all people. Everyone deserves an equal right to the American dream.
The African American presence in Alaska can be dated as far back as the construction of the 1,522 mile long road from Dawson Creek, British Colombia to Fairbanks, Alaska. This road went through rugged, unmapped wilderness and was heralded as a near impossible engineering feat. There was much praise for soldiers who pushed it through in just eight months and twelve days. However, Black battalions were seldom mentioned in publicity releases, despite the fact that they numbered 3,695 in troop strength of 10,670.
According to the testimony of their commanders, these men did an exceptional job under duress. Ill housed, often living in tents with insufficient clothing and monotonous food, they worked 20 hour days through a punishing winter. Temperatures hovered at 40-below-zero for weeks at a time. A new record low of -79 was established. The majority of these troops were from warmer climates; yet, they persevered. On the highway's completion, many were decorated for their efforts and then sent off to active duty in Europe and the South Pacific. The veterans of the Army's Black Corps of Engineers were members of the 93rd, 95th, 97th and 388th units.
Due to the fine showing of these Black troops and others, the U.S. military integrated all units during the Korean Conflict, becoming the first government agency in the United States to do so.
Americans have recognized black history annually since 1926, first as "Negro History Week," and in 1976 the week was expanded to "Black History Month." What you might not know is that black history had barely begun to be studied-or even documented-when the tradition originated. Although blacks have been in America at least as far back as colonial times, it was not until the 20th century that they gained a respectable presence in our history books.
We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. The scholar was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population-and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.
Woodson, always one to act
on his ambitions, decided to take on the challenge of writing
black Americans into our nation's history. Since then, African
Americans have been recognized as important strands in the fiber
of our great nation, and have made monumental contributions to
our nation's history and our way of life. As we celebrate this
important month, let us continue to work toward the day of a
colorless nation, where a person's contribution to our nation's
history will be celebrated regardless of his or her ethnicity.
About: Don Young is Congressman for all Alaska.
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