Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205
02/28/2017 03:30 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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SB 46-OCT 25: AFRICAN-AMERICAN SOLDIERS AK HIGHWAY DAY 3:31:57 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY announced the consideration of SB 46. 3:32:27 PM SENATOR DAVID WILSON, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of SB 46, read the sponsor statement for SB 46 as follows: Senate Bill 46 recognizes the contributions of African American Soldiers in building the Alaska Highway and commemorates those extraordinary efforts by establishing October 25thas "African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day." Why October 25th? On this day, African American Army troops of the 93rdand 95thregiments constructing the Alaska-Canadian (ALCAN) Highway north from Dawson Creek, met the white troops constructing the ALCAN Highway heading south. The troops connected the two segments on October 25, 1942, at Contact Creek, near Mile Post 590 in the Yukon Territory. Four regiments of African American Army Engineers from the 93rd,95th, and the 97thEngineer General Services th Regiments and the 388Engineer Battalion were deployed to Alaska to assist in building the 1,500 miles of road (The highway cost $138 million to build at that time). The 10,607 men, of which a third were African American, built the road in eight months and 12 days. This extraordinary accomplishment was compared to the construction of the Panama Canal. Little recognition has been given to the African American soldiers for their contributions in building the ALCAN Highway; for example: · The National Archives contains only a few dozen photos of the African American troops among the hundreds taken of the ALCAN Highway construction; · African Americans were edited out of a 1991 National Geographic feature on the ALCAN highway, despite the fact that the magazine obtained interviews of seven men who served building the ALCAN; · And, the official 759-page U.S. Army history of the Corps of Engineers covers African Americans' involvement with a one-sentence footnote. The road was built as an overland route across Alaska during World War II (WW II) for strategic purposes in our country's fight against Japanese aggression. A shortage of manpower early in WW II led to the U.S. Army's decision to send African American troops to Alaska to assist in the ALCAN Highway construction. At the formal dedication of the road, Brigadier General James A. O'Connor singled out the African American troops for special recognition, "Someday the accomplishments of these African American soldiers - achievements accomplished far from their homes - will occupy a major place in the lore of the North country," he promised. Because of the African American troop's performance in contributing to the construction of the ALCAN Highway, military and civilian leaders decided to desegregate the armed services in 1948. The Federal Highway Administration has called the ALCAN Highway, "the road to civil rights." This year, 2017, marks the 75thanniversary of the ALCAN Highway. It's fitting we recognize these men and celebrate their contributions in constructing the ALCAN Highway! 3:35:09 PM GARY ZEPP, Staff, Senator David Wilson, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, read an introductory overview of SB 46 as follows: On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. America's next concern of World War II was how close Alaska was to Japan and that fear became a reality after the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor on June 3 and June 4, and invaded Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in 1942 as well. American's reaction was to build an overland route across Alaska and Canada in order to support the troops and the supplies. This had to be accomplished quickly and the U.S. troops met the call; they finished the original Alaska highway in eight months and a few days. This was an extraordinary engineering accomplishment for its time. Most African-American soldiers at that time were delegated to labor projects and not usually sent into battle because the military's assessment of African-American soldiers was thought to be substandard when compared to white troops and skills and literacy; that changed after the original construction of the Alaska Highway. 3:36:29 PM MR. ZEPP explained the reason for commemorating October 25 as follows: Why October 25th as Senator Wilson stated? Two crews, one moving north and one moving south completed the road's last link. Later the New York Times reported what happened when they, "met head on in the spruce forest of the Yukon Territory." This is Corporal Refines Sims Jr., an African American from Philadelphia, who was driving south with his bulldozer when he started to see trees toppling over on him, on the other side he slammed his vehicle in reverse and backed out just as another bulldozer driven by Private Alfred Jalufka of Kennedy, Texas, broke through the underbrush. The wire-service photographer captured this image, one African American, one white standing on their respective bulldozers, this occurred 20 miles east of the Alaska-Yukon border as the senator referred to; an article in the Engineering News Record described it as, "Two races working together to build a lifeline to Alaska's defenders amidst spectacularly rugged terrain and horrendous weather conditions." He reviewed a map of the Alaska Highway and commented as follows: 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 in 1942, taking that in today's dollars equals $2.1 billion. As a side note and to put it into perspective, on March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William Seward reached agreement with Russia to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million, that's $112.2 million in today's dollars. 3:38:23 PM MR. ZEPP presented a video: Alaska Highway - "The Road to Civil Rights." 3:42:52 PM He thanked the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Interior for the video. He continued his presentation as follows: The African American Army regiments that built the Alaska Highway established a reputation for excellence, especially in the field of bridge building; however, their accomplishments were ignored by mainstream media and press. It took decades for them to receive proper recognition for their achievements. Some say they were as "legendary" as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers. He addressed "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" as follows: It's about historical context. Race relations in America were very different in 1942 and opportunities for African Americans were rare and expectations were low. Racial segregation included: housing, medical care, education, transportation, and social segregation (restaurants, drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc.). The movie "Alaska at War" was a documentary on Alaska's role in World War II, such as the opening of oil fields, the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor, the struggle to recapture the Aleutian Islands, and the construction of the highway. "Not on African American soldier was shown in the movie," stated Eugene Long, who was enlisted in the 95th Engineer Regiment deployed to Alaska to assist in building the Alaska Highway. 3:44:17 PM MR. ZEPP addressed "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" by considering the following timeline for the Safeguards of Civil Rights: · 1865: 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. · 1868: 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution granted U.S. citizenship to former slaves. · 1870: 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided African American men the right to vote. · 1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed and forbid racial segregation in accommodations. · 1896: U.S. Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of Louisiana's requirement that railroad companies provide "separate but equal" accommodations for white and black passengers. · Over the next 25-35 years, equality in racial relations progress was lost, particularly in the South. By 1910, segregation was firmly established across the South and most of the border region. · 1954: Legal segregation in schools was banned in the U.S. after a series of rulings in the U.S. Supreme Court. · 1964: All legally enforced public segregation was abolished by the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. War Department's tradition and policy mandated the segregation of African Americans into separate units, led by white officers. During the construction of the Alaska Highway, African American troops were ordered to not leave camp and mingle with the locals, while the whites were allowed to mingle. They were treated unequally and yet defied expectations in many situations, with even fewer resources. He addressed "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" as follows: Little press or mainstream media has been given to the African American soldiers, examples of the lack of press coverage of the African American troops include: · National Archives contains only a few dozen photos among the hundreds taken of the Alaska Highway construction. · African Americans were edited out of a 1991 National Geographic feature on the highway, despite the fact that the magazine obtained interviews of seven men who served building the Alaska Highway. · A souvenir booklet, "Alaska Highway, Army Service Forces," published in 1944 includes 100 photos but only one of an African American soldier. · The official 759-page U.S. Army history of the Corps covers African American troop involvement with a one-sentence footnote. 3:46:40 PM MR. ZEPP addressed "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" as follows: This event and others that followed during World War II influenced our American leaders and some believe that it was a turning point in race relations in American. By 1948, President Truman signed into law a desegregation plan for the armed forces. In 1992, Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after seeing Ms. Lael Morgan's exhibit in Fairbanks stated, "I had no idea black men had done anything like this." "They are deserving of recognition." Douglas Brinley, Rice University Historian, "The Alaska Highway was not only the greatest feat of World War II; it is a triumph over racism." General James O'Connor, during the Alaska Highway dedication stated, "Someday the accomplishments of the African American troops' achievements accomplished far from their home will occupy a major place in the lore of the North country." This happened in Alaska. MR. ZEPP presented a video presentation on the Alaska Highway that featured Mr. Reginald Beverly, 95th Engineer Regiment. He disclosed that Mr. Beverly is currently 102 years old. 3:49:06 PM He addressed "Acknowledgment and Thanks" as follows: The legacy of the African American Army soldiers wouldn't be known today nor officially recognized by the military if not for the works of many. Just to name a few: · The U.S. Park Service; · U.S. Army Corp of Engineers; · Heath Twitchell Jr. (Historian); · James Eaton (Curator of the Black History Archive at Florida A&M University); · Ted Stevens (U.S. Senator); · Andrew Molloy (Head of Pentagon's Affirmative Action Office); · Colin Powell (Retired Four Star General); · Stan Cohen (Author); · John Virtue (Author); · Mike Dunham (Anchorage Daily News); · Cornelia Dean (New York Times); · Tim Ellis (KUAC News); · Rickie Longfellow (News Writer); · Bill Gifford (Washington City Paper); · Kani Saburi Ayubu (Black Art Depot Today); · Douglas Brinley (Rice University-Historian); · Jean Pollard (Educator); · Lael Morgan (University of Alaska-Professor of Journalism). Thank you all for your contributions in revealing this remarkable story and your support of Senate Bill 46's efforts to establish October 25th as "African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day." He encouraged all Alaskans and visitors to attend the Alaska Highway's 75th anniversary events throughout the state during the upcoming summer. CHAIR DUNLEAVY thanked Mr. Zepp for his presentation. He opened invited testimony for SB 46. 3:50:56 PM KATRINA BEVERLY GILL, representing self, State of Maryland, testified in support of SB 46. She revealed that she is the daughter of Veteran Reginald Beverly, previously noted in Mr. Zepp's presentation. She detailed that Mr. Beverly is one of over 4,000 black soldiers who built the Alaskan Highway in 1942. She provided the committee with details of Mr. Beverly's experience in building the ALCAN Highway as well as his educational and vocational history. She set forth that she supported SB 46 to recognize the contributions of African American soldiers who worked extremely hard on the Alaska Highway and completed the task in record time prior to the time that was given. CHAIR DUNLEAVY thanked Ms. Gill and Mr. Beverly for his service to his country. 3:55:18 PM JEAN POLLARD, Chair, Alaska Highway Memorial Project, Anchorage, Alaska, testified in support of SB 46. She set forth that it is time to recognize the achievements of the African Americans that built the Alaska Highway. She noted that when she graduated from college she did not know about the history of the Alaska Highway. She stated that SB 46 will ensure that future generations will learn about the contributions of the African American soldiers that built the Alaska Highway. 4:00:53 PM VERDIE BOWEN, Director, Office of Veterans Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Anchorage, Alaska, testified in support of SB 46. He remarked that the greatest aspect of SB 46 is the fact that it recognizes a third of those that built the Alaska Highway and did so with less than the rest of the soldiers. He said the contribution by the African American soldiers proved that under great, extreme difficulties that not only were they the same soldier, but equal too. He said what the African American soldiers did on the Alaska Highway was just as significant as the military desegregation that occurred in 1948. 4:02:30 PM BERT LARKINS, representing self, New Orleans, Louisiana, testified in support of SB 46. He revealed that his father was one of the black soldiers that built the Alaska Highway. He disclosed that his father was ecstatic when he heard the black soldiers that built the Alaska Highway would be recognized for their accomplishment. 4:05:28 PM MARK FISH, representing self, Big Lake, Alaska, testified in opposition of SB 46. He asked that SB 46 be amended to recognize all soldiers for an Alaska Highway Day. He disclosed that his grandfather had worked on constructing the ALCAN Highway. He admitted that the bill is well intended, but informed that both blacks and whites had worked together in a racially divided country for a common cause in building the ALCAN Highway. 4:08:31 PM KAREN JONES, representing self, Wasilla, Alaska, testified in opposition of SB 46. She asked that the bill be amended to include all soldiers. She disclosed that her father was a civilian contractor on the Alaska Highway. She noted that her father endured challenging conditions during the highway's construction. She revealed that 12-men died on a resupply mission during construction. She pointed out that recent history has noted the contribution of black soldiers in the Alaska Highway's construction. She stated that October 25 should be a date that recognizes all that had served during a most difficult time in the nation's history. 4:12:26 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY closed public testimony. 4:12:42 PM SENATOR GIESSEL moved to report SB 46, version 30-LS0431\A, from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. 4:12:54 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY announced that there being no objection, SB 46 moved from the Senate State Affairs Standing Committee. SENATOR GIESSEL commented as follows: I am happy to support this bill, but one of the things that I can't fail to notice is the Corps of Engineers approved this building of the road through wetlands and permafrost, it was built in less than a year, if only we could do that today. CHAIR DUNLEAVY reiterated that SB 46 moved from committee. He noted that the Delta Junction area will be having a celebration during the upcoming summer in commemoration of the Alaska Highway's completion.