Legislature(2017 - 2018)GRUENBERG 120
03/21/2017 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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SB 46-OCT 25: AFR-AMER SOLDIERS AK HWY DAY 3:13:11 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS announced that the next order of business would be SENATE BILL NO. 46, "An Act establishing October 25 of each year as African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day." 3:13:45 PM GARY ZEPP, Staff, Senator David Wilson, Alaska State Legislature, presented SB 46 on behalf of Senator Wilson, prime sponsor, with the use of a PowerPoint presentation. He began by saying that there is no disrespect intended in the use of the terms "blacks" or "African Americans" in discussing SB 46, as the terms are interchangeable. MR. ZEPP paraphrased from his written testimony, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the th committee. Thank you for hearing SB 46 October 25 - "African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day" Also Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I'd like to encourage all Alaskans and visitors to attend th this summer's Alaska Highway 75 Anniversary celebration events taking place throughout the state. th The 75 anniversary celebrations are a tribute to all of the troops and civilians for their contributions to building the Alaska Highway. All of the troops are all deserving of recognition! This legislation is not meant to ignore nor disrespect any of the troops or civilians who worked on the Alaska Highway. There are so many amazing stories related to Alaska's history yet to be discovered and shared, this is just one of them. We believe the African American Soldiers deserve to have their story told! th • Did you know that the all African American 97 Engineer Regiment was responsible for building the original Alaska Highway from the Alaska-Yukon border all the way to Delta? It's true! Not many people know that fact. th • African American Soldiers from the 97Engineer Regiment worked on the entire portion of the rdth Alaska Highway. The 93 and 95 Engineer Regiments worked on various parts of the Alaska Highway within the Canadian border. • It's about the historical context, during the Jim Crow area (which meant states and local laws enforced racial segregation up until 1965), the racist environment they endured and the segregation imposed upon them, they were poorly supplied and equipped because of their race, the US Army's own assessment at that time was that the African American troops' were substandard when compared to whites, and the many examples of the lack of press or mainstream media coverage of the African American troops' contributions to building the Alaska Highway until now. • The African American Soldiers were asked to risk their lives for their country, yet the country didn't value them as equals to other races, at that time. Army regulations at the time mandated that African Americans [sic] soldiers had to live in segregated camps, and eat separately from the whites. African American troops were not only segregated from white troops, they weren't allowed near any Alaskan or Canadian settlements and very few residents in Fairbanks or Delta Junction ever realized they were there. They were under orders not to talk or visit with white citizens as they entered Alaska. 3:16:56 PM MR. ZEPP began a PowerPoint presentation. He referred to Slide th 1, titled "Senate Bill 46 - 'October 25 - African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day'". He said three African American regiments were sent to Alaska and rd Canada to work on the highway: the 93 Engineer Regiment, the thth th 95 Engineer Regiment, and the 97Engineer Regiment. The 97 Engineer Regiment worked exclusively on the Alaska section. MR. ZEPP directed attention to Slide 2, titled "Why October thth 25?" He relayed that on October 25, the 97 Engineer Regiment th heading south met the white troops from the 18 Engineer Regiment heading north and completed the road's last link. He said that The New York Times reported what happened when the two regiments met head-on in the spruce forests of the Yukon Territory. The article read as follows [original punctuation provided in the PowerPoint slide]: Corporal Refines Sims Jr., an African American from Philadelphia, who was driving south with a bulldozer when he saw trees starting to topple over on him, slamming his big vehicle into reverse, he backed out just as another bulldozer, driven by Private Alfred Jalufka of Kennedy, Texas, broke through the underbrush. MR. ZEPP stated that an Engineering News-Record magazine photographer, Harold Richardson, captured the image of the African American soldier and the white soldier standing on their respective bulldozers. He relayed that this meeting occurred 20 miles east of the Alaska-Yukon border at Beaver Creek. He quoted an article in the Engineering News-Record describing the meeting as "two races working together to build a lifeline to Alaska's defenders amidst spectacularly rugged terrain and horrendous weather conditions." MR. ZEPP referred to Slide 3 and related that 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 dollars, which would be $2.1 billion today. MR. ZEPP said to add perspective, on March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William Seward reached agreement with Russia to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million, which would be $112.2 million in 2017. 3:19:10 PM [MR. ZEPP turned to Slide 4 of the PowerPoint, titled "Alaska Highway - 'The Road to Civil Rights,'" and played a National Park Service video on the building of the Alaskan Highway.] 3:23:41 PM MR. ZEPP expressed his appreciation to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, for the video. MR. ZEPP referred to Slide 5 and relayed that 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 the press and mainstream media. He said it took decades for these soldiers to receive proper recognition for their achievements. He added that some say they were as legendary as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers. MR. ZEPP mentioned that the Sikanni Chief River Bridge building project, shown in the video, was amazing because the African American soldiers worked with hand tools - saws and axes - to drive pilings into the riverbed, to fell spruce trees, and to sawmill the trees into planks, boards, and pilings. He added that the project was finished in record time. 3:24:38 PM MR.ZEPP turned to Slide 6, titled "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" and said, "It's about the historical context." He stated that race relations in America were very different in 1942. Opportunities for African Americans were rare, and expectations were low. He said that racial segregation existed in housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation, and social segregation existed regarding restaurants, drinking fountains, and bathrooms. MR. ZEPP related that the documentary, titled Alaska at War, describes Alaska's role in World War II, including the opening of oil fields, the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor, the struggle to recapture the Aleutians Islands, and the construction of the highway. He mentioned that Eugene Long, who was enlisted in the 95th Engineer Regiment deployed to Alaska to assist in building the Alaska Highway, said, "Not one African American soldier was shown in the movie." MR. ZEPP relayed that the bestselling book on the building of the Alaska Highway, titled The Trail of 1942, has three photos, taken at a distance, of African American Soldiers out of 178 photos, or 1.6 percent, even though the African American soldiers represented one-third of the troops. 3:25:42 PM MR. ZEPP referred to Slide 7, also titled "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" and relayed the timeline for the safeguards of civil rights as follows: In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted U.S. citizenship to former slaves. In 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided African American [men] the right to vote. In 1875, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed, which forbid racial segregation in accommodations. However in 1896, the 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. In 1954, legal segregation in schools was banned in the U.S. after a series of rulings in the U.S. Supreme Court. And in 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 American troops into separate units led by white officers. During the construction of the Alaska Highway, African American troops were ordered not to leave camp and not 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. 3:27:19 PM MR. ZEPP reiterated, "It's about the historical context." He referred to Slide 8, again titled "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" He said that little press or mainstream media has been given to the African American soldiers for these efforts. He relayed examples of the lack of press coverage of the African American troops as follows: The 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, the Alaska Highway, Armed 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] Corp covers African American troop involvement with a one sentence footnote. MR. ZEPP maintained that the African American soldiers not only helped build the Alaska Highway, but their performance and efforts helped change the course of discrimination in America. He referred to Slide 9, also titled "Why the recognition of the African American Soldiers?" He said that the African American soldiers' contributions during World War II influenced American leaders, and this point in history was considered a turning point in race relations in America. He relayed that by 1948, President Harry Truman signed into law a desegregation plan for the armed services. MR. ZEPP mentioned that after seeing Ms. Lael Morgan's exhibit in Fairbanks in 1992, Colin Powell, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated, "I had no idea black men had done anything like this. They are deserving of recognition." Mr. Zepp added that Douglas Brinley, a Rice University historian, stated, "The Alaska Highway was not only the greatest feat of World War II, it was a triumph over racism." Mr. Zepp quoted General James O'Connor speaking at the Alaska Highway dedication, "Someday the accomplishments of the African American troops, achievements accomplished far from home, will occupy a major place in the lore of the North country." Mr. Zepp added, "And this happened in Alaska." 3:29:16 PM [MR. ZEPP played from slide 9 of the PowerPoint a video of Mr. Reginald Beverly briefly describing his experience as a soldier in the 95th Engineer Regiment working on the Alaska Highway.] 3:30:23 PM MR. ZEPP relayed that the U.S. Army's official assessment at this time in history was that African American soldiers were substandard in performance and literacy; they were usually delegated to labor projects and not sent to the battle front. He related a few examples of how African American soldiers were treated, as follows: General Clarence Sturdevant, who was apologetic to General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., who was the head of the US Army in Alaska at that time when he stated, "I have heard that you object to having colored troops in Alaska, and we have attempted to avoid sending them; however, we have been forced to use colored regiments and it seems unwise for diplomatic reasons to use them in Canada, since the Canadians also prefer whites." To placate Gen. Buckner Jr, it was agreed that black troops would not be allowed near any Alaskan or Canadian settlements. There was also a concern about African Americans settling after the war, and they would interbreed with Indians and Eskimos and produce an astonishingly objectionable race of mongrels. A military study from the Army War College stated, "The Negro is careless, shiftless, irresponsible, secretive, he is best handled with praise and by ridicule. He is unmoved and untruthful, and his sense of right-doing is relatively inferior." A field inspection noted during 63 degree below zero weather indicated that the Big Delta's black regiment was found to be living in wretched conditions and poorly supplied. But things started to change after the original construction of the Alaska Highway. It is believed that the achievements and the performance of the African American troops and white troops working together were considered a turning point in America's race relations. And this happened in Alaska. MR. ZEPP asked for the committee's support for SB 46. 3:32:30 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH expressed his appreciation for the presentation and said he was happy to support the proposed legislation. 3:33:15 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS opened public testimony on SB 46. 3:33:34 PM VERDIE BOWEN, Director, Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA), Department of Military & Veterans' Affairs (DMVA), testified in support of SB 46. He said that the first time he learned of the African American soldiers who built the [Alaska] Highway was as a young man in Cape Pole, Alaska. He relayed that his construction boss was one of the soldiers who had constructed the highway. Mr. Bowen mentioned that he assumed this was part of Alaskan history education. He said that later in life, he read an article in which General Colin Powell said he did not realize that any African American soldiers worked on the highway to Alaska. Mr. Bowen offered that he was surprised that General Powell was not aware of this, since one-third of the soldiers constructing the highway were African Americans. MR. BOWEN went on to say that in considering the accomplishments of the African American soldiers, he thought about the conditions that they lived under. He said that during the time they built the road, they were not allowed to leave, not allowed into the communities, and not allowed time to relax. He asserted that they had great adversities to overcome. They did not have mechanized equipment. He said that what they accomplished with what they had proved to those in authority that not only were they equal to the soldiers who had all the equipment, they were much better. He said that he can't imagine building a bridge over a river with just hand tools and not having the ability to plane planks or use a pile driver to put holding beams into the water. MR. BOWEN concluded that naming October 25th after those soldiers, who went through that adversity, would ensure that youth would be aware of this history. He offered that this event was a huge factor in the execution of the Executive Order [Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces] of 1948. 3:37:22 PM MARK FISH testified in opposition to SB 46. He relayed that his grandfather, James D. Fish, worked on the construction of the Alaska Highway. He said that the story of the Alaska Highway is how a divided and segregated nation, in a time of great stress and danger, worked together under extreme conditions to accomplish a great thing in a short period of time. He stated that in the proposed legislation, the contributions of other workers including his grandfather are being ignored because of the color of their skin. He asserted, "We cannot make up for past injustice by creating a future injustice." He emphasized that segregation was not right then, and it is not right to segregate workers now by way of the proposed legislation. He maintained that all workers' contributions should be commemorated. He quoted from the PBS website on the Alaska Highway construction, which read, "Regardless of race issues, the War Department's plan required enormous efforts from everyone who worked on the highway. The grueling schedule and extreme conditions were a tremendous challenge." MR. FISH said that from his grandfather's stories, the equipment was not new but was second and third rate, and some was from the '20s. He said that everyone who worked on the highway shared in the conditions; the mosquitos didn't know the color of the person whose blood they were sucking. He relayed that there was very little sanitation. He added there was not much time off for anyone to go into town after a 16-hour shift, as they were in the middle of the Yukon wilderness. He maintained that all veterans who worked on the highway have a lot for which to be proud. He said, "Instead of celebrating segregation and division, we should celebrate a day without division and call it the Alaska Highway Day." He maintained that doing so would focus on all who participated and not prevent anyone from observing their own people's contributions. He asked that the proposed legislation be amended to read "Alaska Highway Day" and that corresponding changes be made to the bill language. 3:40:51 PM CLAUDIA ROLLINS paraphrased from her written testimony, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: My name is Claudia Beverly Rollins and I am the daughter of Mr. Reginald Beverly who lives in Ruther Glen, Virginia. My dad is one of over 4,000 black soldiers who built the Alaska Highway in 1942. He is now 102 years old. Throughout my lifetime, he has shared many of his experiences with my sisters and me. When he went to build the Alaska Highway, he was a rarity because he was a black recruit with a university degree. He said, "I was drafted December 5, 1941, two days before Pearl Harbor. I was a high school math teacher. Once drafted, I only had time to report to school the next morning, call the class roll and bid my students and administration goodbye. From there, I traveled two miles to Bowling Green, Virginia to catch the bus to go to Fort Meade, Maryland. I was twenty-six years old." My Dad, Mr. Beverly had received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Virginia State University, one of the first fully state-supported four-year institutions of higher learning for blacks in America. He was assigned to the 95th Regiment. 3:42:57 PM While serving in Alaska as a regimental surveyor building the Alcan Highway, Mr. Beverly had to endure the treacherous weather while living in substandard conditions such as living in tents with ice approximately one inch thick on the inside while white soldiers lived in actual buildings. During this time, while instructing other soldiers using his surveying skills and sophisticated instruments, Mr. Beverly had no stripes while white soldiers that he was instructing wore strips [sic]. When a Colonel Thompson saw Sargent Beverly and observed that he [sic] no stripes, he said, "Give that man some stripes!" Mr. Beverly said stripes were delivered to him on the very next morning! I do approve Senate Bill 46. I support this Bill to recognize the contributions of African American Soldiers who worked extremely hard on the Alcan Highway and completed this task in record time! I also support making October 25th of each year the official "Alaska African American History Soldier Contribution Day." This day is befitting since this was the day that a Black Soldier and white soldier shook hands upon completion of such a tremendous project! Thank you Gary Zepp and Legislators for giving me this opportunity to communicate with you in support of Senate Bill 46. 3:45:02 PM REGINALD BEVERLY expressed his appreciation for the proposed legislation honoring the African American soldiers who worked on the Alcan Highway. 3:46:08 PM LEONARD LARKIN testified that he entered military service on April 12, 1941, and enlisted for one year. He relayed that after [the bombing of] Pearl Harbor, he had to stay in the service. He said he was sent to serve in the 93rd Engineer Regiment in Alaska to work on the ALCAN Highway, which lasted about one year. He related that the soldiers did not have enough tools - picks, shovels, and bulldozers; much of the work had to be done by hand. He said the weather was cold and "sloppy," and there were mosquitos. He added that the men had a difficult time working. He stated that they were mostly black men, and the few officers in charge of them were white men. 3:48:03 PM BERT LARKIN testified that Leonard Larkin is his father. He said he heard many stories over the years from his father about his experiences on the Alcan Highway. He relayed that he always tried to research what his father told him, but he never found anything written about it. He said, "That's what makes this all so important; that the story be told about these soldiers who overcame adversity, racism, and hard work." He reiterated that he and his father both support establishing a day of recognition and the passage of SB 46. 3:49:29 PM JEAN POLLARD, Chair, Alaska Highway Project, testified that the intent of the Alaska Highway Project is not to change history but to acknowledge history. She maintained that there were no white soldiers building the highway; there were white officers supervising the black soldiers; and there were civilians, not military, who came to Alaska to pave the highway. She related that as an educator, she will be teaching a class with two other teachers, which will be put into the Alaska Studies curriculum so that this history will not be forgotten. The class will be a required course and shared in other Alaskan communities. She maintained that many people have not heard this story; she has talked with many educators who have not heard this story; she herself has a minor in history from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and had not heard it. She asserted that it is important to ensure that the next generation will hear it. She said she supports SB 46 and mentioned that there will be celebration events all over the state. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX thanked Ms. Pollard for her tireless advocacy for SB 46. 3:53:54 PM ELLIOT ROSS testified that he has recently been appointed as Fort Greely's chair in the efforts to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Alaska-Canadian Highway as well as the Lend-Lease Policy ["An Act to promote the Defense of the United States"] for Allen Army Airfield. He stated that the proposed legislation and related events are a tremendous opportunity for Alaska to recognize significant accomplishments of African Americans in connecting Alaska with the Lower 48 and Canada. He relayed that he, as a young African American living in Delta Junction, had no idea of this history, and as chairperson, has learned so much more of the contribution [of the African American soldiers]. He said he is a strong supporter of SB 46 and believes that everyone, no matter their demographic, will benefit from the education that will come because of the proposed legislation. 3:56:31 PM CEYLON MITCHELL paraphrased from his written testimony, which read as follows [original punctuation provided]: Hello Mr. Zepp, my name is Ceylon Mitchell. I am a retired veteran of the United States Air Force and with my family we have lived in Anchorage since September 1992. I am calling in as a proud Alaskan because my Father was one of the 4,000 Patriot [sic] Black Soldiers that helped build the Alaska Highway. My Father was Tec 5 James A. Mitchell. He was from Suffolk, Virginia and arrived and worked on the Canadian sector of the Highway in 1942. He was assigned to the 93rd General Services Reg. which worked from the Canadian sector going North to the Regiments that connected the Alaska Sector. After the 93rd completed their work on the Highway they were assigned to the Aleutian Islands to help remove the Japanese that had taken over part of the islands. I am proud of SB 46 because it is one way that the Soldiers may be honored for their work that they performed in the War affords [sic]. There is very little written in the history books about their work in Alaska because the military was segregated, they were not allowed in the villages and they were not wanted here, but their labor was needed. Because of their work they are [a part of] America (sic) History, Black History and Alaska History. The building of the Highway was not only a major contribution to the war affords [sic], but also a major factor in the defense of Alaska and its future. This is a new day and there is enough positive history of Alaska to share. Just think if it were not for the Highway we all maybe speaking Japanese at this time. Have a good day and God Bless your work. 3:59:21 PM LIONEL MAYBIN testified that he is retired from the U.S. Air Force after having served 24 years. He stated that he is an educator and a community leader helping children be successful. He stressed the importance of public awareness of the major contribution of the African American in helping to build the Alaska Highway. He maintained that this knowledge contributes to the pride and respect of being American and being part of building America. He said that as an educator, if you don't give African Americans respect for what their ancestors have done - being a major contributor to building this country - you lessen their self-worth. He maintained that when he teaches, he gives credit where it is due through the truth being told. MR. MAYBIN referred to the three African American women portrayed in the movie, Hidden Figures, and the significant role they played in sending a man [into space], a contribution which was largely unknown. He asserted that the more we share these truths and the more we give credit, the more people feel self- worth and the better we become as a society. He said that he believes that his ancestors deserve respect for what they have contributed, just as he deserves respect for having served in the military for 24 years. He stated that he supports SB 46 and believes October 25 will be a great day of celebration for Alaskans and Americans. 4:03:01 PM SHALA DOBSON, Alaska Highway Memorial Project, testified that he wholeheartedly supported SB 46, which would celebrate always Alaska Highway Day on October 25. He stated that the proposed legislation would give honored recognition both to the Black Army Engineers who built the Alaska section of the Alaska Highway and to the meeting of the black troops with the white troops at Contact Creek on October 25. He said that as a member of the Alaska Highway Project, he believed that SB 46 would help bring this important story of our Alaska history to the forefront. He maintained that the complete story of the building of the Alaska Highway needs to be publicized. 4:04:02 PM CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS closed public testimony on SB 46. REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH referred to the recognition of the contributions of the African American community to Alaska, submitted by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan and included in the committee packet. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON stated that she supports SB 46 and believes that it is a great story of Alaska that deserves to be told. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX concurred with Representative Johnson's remarks and thanked all who have worked on the proposed legislation. REPRESENTATIVE TUCK expressed his support for highlighting and recognizing the "heroes left behind" in history so that their contributions will never be forgotten. 4:06:51 PM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX moved to report SB 46 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection SB 46 was reported from House State Affairs Standing Committee.