‘This is just the beginning’: Highlighting Black lives in Alaska exhibit before it leaves the Anchorage Museum

Archivists, activists, and curators involved in the creation of the exhibition discuss educational impact
Black lives in Alaska
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 5:45 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Black lives in Alaska exhibit opened at the Anchorage Museum in April 2021 and will be closing this month, but during its time at the museum it recalled triumphs as well as struggles of Alaska’s Black community.

Eleanor Andrews is longtime leader and activist within the Black community. As a Black woman who has lived in Alaska since 1965, she’s been building connections in Alaska for nearly five decades. She is featured in the museum in a collaborative video, and has items upon a wall upstairs in the atrium that represent memories from her life, culture, and beliefs.

“In the photos and exhibits that you see around here are part of this whole reckoning about who Black people are, how long they’ve been in Alaska, showing pictures and telling stories,” Andrews said.

Andrews believes that the exhibit has been “a way of educating ourselves as well as the community” about Black lives in Alaska.

One of the goals of the exhibit was to showcase the richness and resilience of Alaska’s Black communities, but in many cases, marginalized groups have been written out of history books, causing less visibility for these communities, according to Archivist Julie Varee at the Anchorage Museum,

“There are gaps in the information we have about people’s lives and experiences from historically marginalized communities,” Varee said.

Varee said that museum staff encountered difficulty in even creating the exhibit, due to a lack of photos within the museum at first. Several photos had to be borrowed from organizations within the community.

There’s now a call for action to Alaskans who have collections of photos to share them with the museum so that they can have a more comprehensive history.

“I think that there are a lot of things you can learn in this exhibition that I can definitely say as someone who grew up in Alaska and went to the public schools here, I did not learn,” Chief Curator Francesca DuBrock said.

The exhibit follows the history and stories of Black people in Alaska from the 1800s up to the present and was created in collaboration with many different organizations and people.

“The fact that it goes until present day, so there are photographs from the Black Lives Matter protests that are included. It just shows the longevity of the presence and contributions of Black people in Alaska...We always talk about Anchorage being this incredibly diverse place, and we talk about the diversity in the school district, but we don’t often see highlighted the, the richness of the communities that are here,” Varee said.

Although Andrews is glad for the exposure offered by the museum, she wishes it was more normal for everybody.

“We’ve been here on this earth, like some of the native groups say for 10,000 years. So you know, I feel good that my story, other stories are being told — but I wish it wasn’t an event — but this is the beginning,” Andrews said.

The Alaska Black Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a day of free admission on Feb. 5. The exhibit is leaving the museum on Feb. 13, so there’s only a few days left to visit before it leaves town.

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