Photo Credit: Alaska Public Media
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt and military leaders feared other U.S. attacks via Japanese invasions of Alaska. In February 1942, work began on clearing 1600 miles of rugged wilderness to create the highway that would serve as the only land route to Alaska from the rest of the United States. Because most of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were deployed in WWII, approximately 3,500 Black soldiers were sent to assist White troops with building the highway.
At the time, the military was segregated, so much so that military rules mandated that Black soldiers only serve in warm climates. However, Roosevelt chose to deploy Black soldiers anyway. The conditions that Black soldiers experienced included not only blatant racism and segregation but also a lack of equipment. While White counterparts were less knowledgeable/qualified, they were given equipment to use and Black soldiers were forced to often work using their bare hands, including digging the ground.
Despite these circumstances, the Alaska Highway was completed within eight months, and it has been considered the greatest engineering feat of WWII and one of the greatest of the 20th century.