Famous Black Engineers Throughout History

Alaska Highway Veterans
It's all blue skies in this sign from the Alaska Highway, but the making of it was backbreaking labor, and more than two dozen men died. © Patrick Bennett/CORBIS

In February 1942, everything was in place for the construction of the Alaska Highway to begin. There was just one little problem. Nearly all of the Army Corps of Engineers were firmly entrenched in the South Pacific, serving in World War II.

President Roosevelt decided to post several regiments of African-American engineers to the job. This was unusual for a tired reason and a novel one. On the first front, there was still a prejudice that black workers weren't as qualified for the job. Another just as inaccurate (and odd) reason? Military rules stated that African-Americans only be sent to warm climates.

Regardless, three black regiments were sent along with four groups of white troops. But the regiments were still segregated by race and further distanced by unequal treatment. White regiments with less machinery experience were given equipment, while black regiments were left to do work by hand. However, the highway was completed in October 1942 -- complete with a photo-op of one of the black soldiers shaking the hand of his white counterpart at the final link [source: American Experience].