The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway

A History of Four U.S. Army Regiments in the North, 1942–1943


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About the Book

This is the first detailed account of the 5,000 black troops who were reluctantly sent north by the United States Army during World War II to help build the Alaska Highway and install the companion Canol pipeline. Theirs were the first black regiments deployed outside the lower 48 states during the war. The enlisted men, most of them from the South, faced racial discrimination from white officers, were barred from entering any towns for fear they would procreate a “mongrel” race with local women, and endured winter conditions they had never experienced before. Despite this, they won praise for their dedication and their work. Congress in 2005 said that the wartime service of the four regiments covered here contributed to the eventual desegregation of the Armed Forces.

About the Author(s)

John Virtue is director of the International Media Center at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He lives in Miami Beach.

Bibliographic Details

John Virtue

Foreword by Monte Irvin

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: 39 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7117-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0039-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Monte Irvin 1
Preface 4
Introduction 6
1—Pondering a Pathway to Alaska 9
2—Highway and Pipeline Approved 14
3—The Second Emancipation Order 25
4—Blacks Rush to Enlist 33
5—Black Soldiers Voice Their Complaints 48
6—Army Reluctantly Assigns Black Regiments 55
7—Heading North 60
8—Japanese Attack Justifies the Alcan Highway 72
9—The 93rd and the 95th Start Off with Picks and Shovels 83
10—The 97th Completes the Highway 96
11—The 388th Does the Heavy Lifting 109
12—An Unexpectedly Severe Winter 127
13—Surviving Isolation 141
14—The Highway Is Praised, the Pipeline Criticized 155
15—Identifying Problems 166
16—News Coverage of Black Troops Suppressed 179
Epilogue 185
Chapter Notes 195
Bibliography 211
Index 217

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “this book brings out much of the forgotten details that were sadly neglected in earlier histories of these important projects. This book, replete with photographs and stories of the black troops at work and at rest, is well worth reading”—Alaska History
  • “John Virtue has done a marvelous job of recounting the hard work and heroism of African-American patriots in Alaska and Northern Canada during World War II. The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway is both well written and expertly researched. Highly recommended!”—Douglas Brinkley, Rice University
  • “An epic story of adventure and struggle in the Far North”—John Balzar, author Yukon Alone