Grady Ward, one of Alaska’s first Black pioneers to settle in the territory
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Grady Ward arrived in Alaska more than 70 years ago and was one of the first African-American pioneers to settle in the then-territory of Alaska.
He had a passion for community and worked in construction for 52 years, helping build and develop many structures you see around Anchorage today. His son Ray Ward said his dad came to Alaska in 1949 with only a sixth-grade education but got a job working as a welder for the Alaska Railroad. However, his arrival didn’t come without struggle.
“If you had a job, you could rent a room and a house, but they would not rent to my dad because he was Black. My father, Grady Ward, slept in a tent, cooked his food over an open campfire in the Ship Creek Railyard for more than two, for two and a half years,” Ray Ward said.
Still, after the project was complete, Ray’s father fell in love with the community known today as Fairview and decided to stay, but at that time it was so unsafe — no one wanted to live there.
Ray said his dad patrolled every nook and cranny in the Fairview area. His father’s efforts caught the attention of then-Anchorage Mayor George Sullivan, who sent a police officer to patrol with him.
“Just so happened they were attacked that night. From that time on, they gave dad a, police radio and gave him backup,” Ray explained.
Grady went on to form the Fairview Community Patrol, which exists still today. Fairview Community Council President Allen Kemplen used to patrol alongside Grady and said he took great pride in making the community better.
“Grady’s a good example of what American was, what American used to be, somebody who really cared about the community, wasn’t all about me, me, me, me, me,” Kemplen said. “He was a good man. I had a lot of respect for Grady Ward.”
The Fairview community wasn’t Grady’s only passion. He played an integral part in developing and building structures across Anchorage like the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the Fifth Avenue Mall, Providence and Alaska Regional hospitals, J.C. Penney, the Hotel Captain Cook and more — all of which are visible evidence of Ray’s father’s contribution to the development of the state of Alaska.
“My dad, like I said, had only a sixth-grade formal education, but he had a Ph.D. from the university of life,” Ray said.
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