ANCHORAGE, Alaska—When we think of African-Americans who've made history we might think of Rosa Parks or Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. However, in Alaska, you should think of a Judge Pamela Washington, Alaska's first African-American woman judge.
When Washington applied for a position with the Anchorage District Court in 2009, she didn't realize she was going be making history.
"When I think of firsts, I think about people that are a lot older. They were around during the core of the civil rights movement. And so, it seems a little amazing that I can be young, I'm very young, to be the first African-American in any capacity," she said.
In 2010, she was the first African-American woman appointed to the bench in Alaska. The growing diversity on the bench is reflective of the diversity in the community said Washington. Something she saw very little of when she moved to Anchorage in 1975 from New Orleans.
"What I do remember about coming here is that I didn't even know the word minority until I got to Alaska. When I graduated from Chugiak High School, I was the only black girl in my graduating class."
As she was growing up, Washington noticed people treated her differently.
"People treated me like I was an exception to the rule. They were like, 'There are them and she's sort of like us because she's in the same profession.' I always felt more like I was being accepted and I could be in an environment where people were accepting me but I could still see they had some barriers about everybody in general. So I love to be able to show them that we're lawyers, and we're doctors, and we're knuckleheads too. Just like everyone else," said the judge.
Removing those barriers requires familiarity with other cultures.
"Black history was not really involved in the sort of regular educational system. It wasn't involved in the regular college system. And I think that's why Black History Month has been important. Because it gives somebody an opportunity to say, 'Well, what about it? What about Black History? What is Black History?'"
Washington's insight and experience tells her Black history is American history and a reason to continue supporting Black History Month.
"I really have always been excited about Black History Month because I think it really gives everyone an opportunity to think about some of the black people that have made great contributions to our country. As a child growing up, my parents would sit us down and make us do some project and make us learn about somebody that did something for us. It gave us an opportunity to look about the people who paid great, great prices for us to be educated and free and able to have a vote. And African-Americans played a big role in that."