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Alaska's Black History: Company L

Company L stands at attention on the Dyea-Klondike wharf in Dyea, Alaska 1899.
Alaska State Library William Norton Collection (ASL-P226-868)
Company L stands at attention on the Dyea-Klondike wharf in Dyea, Alaska 1899.

Alaska Black History Notes

Black soldiers were among the first members of the U.S. military to arrive in Alaska.

According to the National Park Service, at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park,

Company L, the Twenty-Fourth Infantry was formed in 1869, as a Black regiment, composed mostly of freedmen from the American South.

Alaska historian Ian Hartman says they were sent to Skagway in 1900.

“They come in and they're really tasked with stabilizing the town, and if not for Company L, one wonders what would have been the fate of Skagway. I mean, it was a rough and tumble frontier town and it's making this transition to more of a stable settlement community. There are tensions between white settlers and the indigenous Chilkat Tlingit, and it's Company L's task to make sure that some of those tensions don't boil over. And so, um, right through 1902, they’re the authority in town. A few of them will stay afterwards and then try their hand up in the various gold mining districts. And so, to me, I think it's a turning point in the history of African American settlement in Alaska as well.”

More than a hundred men served in Company L and built infrastructure such as roads and bridges to connect Skagway to outlying settlements.

The Army dissolved the 24th Infantry in 1951. It was reactivated in 1995 and the 1st Battalion retains the regimental designation. It is now part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 11th Airborne Division at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.