JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) A years long effort by a group of Juneau residents to build a statue of William Seward culminated on Monday when the $250,000 bronzed clay sculpture was unveiled across the street from the Alaska Capitol.
The project was financed by private donors and is meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the agreement under which the U.S. bought the territory of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
Seward, as U.S. secretary of state, played an instrumental role in the negotiations which took place under two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, and Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch spoke at the event.
Rich Poor, a former Juneau assembly member who was on the Seward Statue Committee and helped finance the project, said it is part of a broader effort to build statues that draw attention to Alaska's history for the million-plus cruise ship tourists who pass through every year.
"He was a great man," Poor said. "What would Alaska look like if Seward hadn't done what he did? Would we all be speaking Russian? Who knows."
Alaska historian Steve Haycox said the statue is placed in a fitting location, at the state's current political hub.
"Seward was a visionary. His vision was of an American economic empire. He saw the Pacific as the opening of American economic expansion," Haycox said. "He was able to transcend the politics of his time and imagine what it was going to be like in 50 or 60 years."
Still, many see the secretary's legacy and the Alaska Purchase differently, rather as a deal made between two empires that neglected the fact that Natives had called Alaska home long before the U.S. wanted a foothold in the Pacific or, for that matter, before Russians arrived when the seal fur trade was booming.
Haycox puts it this way: "Tlingit and Haida people were famously not consulted about the purchase. The conventions of the time recognized Russian sovereignty and American subsequent sovereignty, but it would be unreasonable of us to expect that anybody would have consulted Tlingit and Haida people or have taken anything they might have had to say in protest seriously because the culture was racist."