A stone for the Chief: Black Anchorage leader who passed as white honored with memorial

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-12-01 20:23Z by Steven

A stone for the Chief: Black Anchorage leader who passed as white honored with memorial

Alaska Dispatch News
Anchorage, Alaska

Mike Dunham, Play & Arts & Entertainment Reporter

From left, Corey Todoroff, Jim Vignola and Lex Patten of the Anchorage Fire Department unveil a new grave marker for longtime Anchorage Fire Chief Thomas Bevers, who passed away in 1944, during a ceremony at the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery on Thursday, October 29, 2015. Bevers was also notable for co-founding what would become the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous festival, and for being a black man who passed as white.
Loren Holmes / ADN

The 1930 Anchorage census tells us this about Thomas S. Bevers: He was 39 years old, male, married, white, a veteran of the World War and the city’s fire chief.

But his final resting place was unmarked until Thursday, when an honor guard from the Anchorage Fire Department unveiled a headstone for him at a ceremony in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

As his job title suggests, Bevers was more important than the average roustabout hoping to strike it rich — or maybe just get by — in the far-off territory of Alaska. He arrived in Anchorage in 1921 and served as a volunteer fireman. The ladder wagons were pulled by horses and the pumps were worked by hand.

By 1930, he was in the front ranks of city leaders, a man of property, a landlord, a partner in a major fur farm on 10th Avenue. He became involved with civic causes that included building a new hospital and Merrill Field. His ongoing business ventures ranged from establishing the Fairview neighborhood (originally Bevers Subdivision) to part-ownership of the Buffalo Mine near Chickaloon.

He was a member of the Anchorage Boosters Club who loved to give visitors tours of Anchorage while extolling its possibilities. Most famously, he co-founded the Fur Rendezvous winter festival.

Anchorage Fire Department Chief Thomas Bevers in the 1930s
Courtesy Anchorage Fire Department

In 1922 Bevers became the first paid fireman in the city. He retired from the position of chief in 1940 and ran for city council in 1941, winning the office with 772 votes.

In October 1944, during a duck hunting trip on the north side of Knik Arm, he went to bed and quietly died of a heart attack. An editorial in the Anchorage Times lamented, “Anchorage (has) lost one of its best friends and leaders.”

He had no immediate family in the territory. The 1940 census listed him as single. Officials summoned a sister in Virginia to come and claim the body.

Upon her arrival, his friends and business partners did a double take…

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