First Black Person to Serve in the Alaska State Legislature
July 10, 2020
Blanche McSmith (1920–2006) was the first African American to serve in the Alaska State Legislature. Blanche moved to Alaska with her husband in 1949, where they opened McSmith Enterprises, a television and radio service store.
In 1951, Blanche worked with others to establish the Anchorage branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving as branch president in 1959. Later that year, Gov. William Egan appointed Blanche to fill a seat in the 10th District of the Alaska House of Representatives.
During her tenure in the State Legislature, Blanche promoted fair housing, proposing an ordinance that was later adopted by the Anchorage City Council in 1967. Blanche continued to promote equality in the public and private sectors, moving to Juneau in 1972 to serve as Public Employment Program director in the Office of the Governor, where she worked to end employment discrimination in Alaska.
Did you know Blanche McSmith and have a story you’d like to share about her? We’d love to know more about her and about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging @anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK to be added to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming exhibition and be sure to check back for new #ExtraToughWomenAK posts.
Photo credit Ward Wells Collection; Anchorage Museum, B1983.091.C184; Ward Wells Collection; Anchorage Museum, B1983.091.C184 cropped to show detail; Ward Wells Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1983.091.C259.9.3