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World War II veteran Leonard Larkins holds an iconic photo of a black and white soldier shaking hands when the two sides building the road met in 1942. Larkins was among scores of segregated black soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) Leonard Larkins and nearly 4,000 other segregated black soldiers helped build a highway across Alaska and Canada during the Second World War, a contribution largely ignored for decades but drawing attention as the 75th anniversary approaches.

In harsh conditions and tough terrain, it took the soldiers working from the north just over eight months to meet up with white soldiers coming from the south to connect the two segments on Oct. 25, 1942. The 2,400-kilometre route set the foundation for the only land link to Alaska.

The project to build a supply route between Alaska and Canada used 11,000 troops from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers divided by race, working under a backdrop of segregation and discrimination. The soldiers connected the road in Canada’s Yukon Territory east of the border of what was then the U.S. territory of Alaska. A photo of a smiling black soldier shaking hands with a cigarette-dangling white soldier became emblematic of their effort. A historic photo shows Corporal Refines Slims, Jr., left, and Private Alfred Jalufka shaking hands at the ‘Meeting of Bulldozers’ in Beaver Creek, Alaska, in 1942. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of History via AP) State lawmakers voted this year to set aside each Oct. 25 to honour black soldiers who worked on the Alcan Highway, now called the Alaska Highway. They note the soldiers’ work became a factor in the integration of the Army in 1948.

With the anniversary of the highway’s completion approaching, its history is gaining attention with multiple events in Alaska this summer. […]

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