Alaska Black Caucas

Alaska Black Caucus

Serving Community Since 1975

The Alaska Black Caucus (ABC) was founded in 1975 to serve the Anchorage community as a non-profit, bipartisan organization “genuinely concerned with the quality of education for our children and with enhancing the economy and political status of all Black people.” In its first decades, the ABC advocated for constitutional rights for all through publications, community outreach and annual banquets.

Notable attendees and speakers included actresses, singers and state politicians. Local members of note pictured here include JoAnn Overstreet, an ASD teacher for 20+ years; Pat Berkley, longtime ABC treasurer and President of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs; Vertis Williams, longtime ABC Vice President; Marva Williams, an oil company executive; and Bettye Davis, former Alaska State Senator, ASD board trustee, and children’s education advocate (see our previous post on Bettye for more on her remarkable life).

In the 1990s, the ABC’s growth started to slow, as original members retired or moved out of state. The ABC was relaunched earlier this year. To learn more, check out @alaskablackcaucus.

Did you know the women above or anyone who attended ABC events in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s? Share your images and stories with @anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK to be added to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more about the upcoming exhibition and follow #ExtraToughWomenAK to see new and past posts.

Special thanks to Celeste Hodge Growden and Dr. Louie Overstreet for their assistance in identifying the individuals in these photos.

Image credits: Alaska Black Caucus, Inc. records, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage; Image courtesy of Dr. Louie Overstreet.

Quote from the First Annual Awards Banquet program from January 29, 1977. Alaska Black Caucus, Inc. records, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.


Check out this group photo of several Anchorage NAACP founders and members. Do you recognize a few of the faces? There are two #ExtraToughWomenAK alums in this photo – Blanche McSmith (labeled #2) and Zula Swanson (labeled #6). Pat Berkley (#5) also made an appearance in a previous post on the Alaska Black Caucus. This photo was recently donated to the Museum by Ed Wesley.

Blanche was a businesswoman and activist who worked to end discrimination in Alaska. She was one of four Black civil rights activists who engaged in sit-ins at the Pagoda restaurant in Anchorage in the early 1950s. She was also the associate editor of The Alaska Spotlight, Alaska’s first Black newspaper, served as the Anchorage NAACP chapter president, and represented the 10th District in the Alaska House of Representatives.

As a businesswoman, Zula amassed a large fortune by buying parcels of land throughout the Anchorage area in addition to running several businesses. She, along with Blanche, helped establish the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP after a racially-motivated arson attack burned down a Black family home in Roger’s Park in 1950.

Pat was active in the Black Civil Rights movement in Alaska, organizing a picket line in 1962 to protest the hiring practices at Carrs, the largest grocery chain in Alaska at the time. She was president of the Alaska Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1979, served on the Commission on the Status of Women from 1981-1983, was an active member of the NAACP, and served as the secretary of the Alaska Black Caucus.

To learn more about these women and others we’ve highlighted throughout the duration of our #ExtraToughWomenAK digital curation project, check out our website or by clicking the link in our bio. Stay tuned for more amazing women and be sure to come check out the Extra Tough: Women of the North exhibition, open now.

Photo credit: Anchorage Museum, Ed Wesley Collection

Scroll to top