Professor: Black People Have Been Living in Alaska for About 150 Years

Professor: Black People Have Been Living in Alaska for About 150 Years

Author and University of Alaska Anchorage’s professor Ian Hartman disclosed during a recent interview with Alaska Public Media why he thought Black people migrated to Alaska way before the Klondike Gold Rush, which occurred in the 1890s.

For context, Hartman revealed in the past during his studies that Black people came to Alaska for military purposes and numerous construction projects, including the creation of the Alaska-Canada highway and other railroads. In the December 21 interview, Hartman shared that Black people may have been in Alaska for about 150 years, if not longer. 

While promoting his new book with David Reamer, Black Lives in Alaska: A History of African Americans in the Far Northwest, Hartman revealed that he believes that Black people, particularly Black men, came to Alaska around the 1840s to the 1880s because of the rise of the whaling industry. 

The author stated the reason behind his estimated timeline was because of how incredibly diverse the whaling crew was. Hartman said, “You’re not really talking about Alaska really coming under U.S. control until the 1860s and ’70s. But there is an Alaskan Black presence that predates even the treaty of purchase that I think people would be a little bit curious about. And that really has to do with the whaling industry.”

He added, “And so, if we think of the high era of North Pacific whaling in the 1840s, ’50s, and ’60s, and into the ’70s and ’80s even, the whaling crews would have been exceedingly diverse. And among the whalers would have included a pretty sizable population of Black whalemen.”

Further in the discussion, Hartman also opened up about the other historic contribution Black people made in Alaska aside from whaling and working on highways and railroads. Hartman claimed that despite the media reporting that Black people first settled in Alaska because of the Alaska-Canada Highway project, there was evidence that indicated they played a part in the Aleutian Islands campaign during World War II, which occurred around the same time in 1942.

According to PBS, the Aleutian Islands campaign began in June 1942 after the Japanese bombed a U.S. military base “at the Dutch Harbor” in Unalaska, Alaska. The attack would lead to the causalities of hundreds of American soldiers and the islands of Adak and Kiska being seized by the Japanese. Things would begin to take a turn the following year, in May 1943, after the U.S. attacked the Japanese on Attu and forced them to retreat. After much bloodshed, the Japanese left Kiska by July of that same year. 

Hartman expressed in the interview that Black people weren’t mentioned in this part of history because of segregation.

Hartman wrapped up the interview by saying his overall goal for researching and writing these books is to highlight Alaska’s history with diversity and give a voice to those who helped shape the community.