Panel approves adding verse to state song

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A House committee Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would add a verse honoring Alaska Natives to the state song, ''Alaska's Flag.''

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak, said the change is timely because 2002 marks the 75th anniversary of the Alaska flag. The flag was the creation of Benny Benson, an Alaska Native youth who won a contest for its design in 1927.

''It is appropriate to recognize the contributions of all Alaskans, whether it was our sourdoughs who dreamed of gold in the streams nearby or a young native lad who saw and gave Alaska a flag of great symbolism,'' Morgan told the State Affairs Committee.

Adding the verse was among a number of measures Gov. Tony Knowles' Commission on Tolerance recommended to heal the racial divide between whites and minority groups.

An earlier attempt to officially add that second verse to the state song passed the House in 1987, but died in the Senate.

Morgan began gathering support for the bill before the Tolerance Commission report came out, a staff member said.

Committee Chairman John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he supports the bill but feared some might interpret it as elevating Alaska Natives above other groups. ''I'd rather see it bring us together,'' Coghill said.

The original song was written by Marie Drake and composed by Elinor Dusenbury. It was adopted as the official state song in 1956. Carol Beery Davis wrote the second verse in the 1980s.

Davis' surviving daughter, Constance, testified Thursday that her mother was friends with Marie Drake. Davis said her mother believed the added verse was important and that Drake would have approved.

''Using the themes of unity, history, progress and the state's natural beauty, she carefully composed the verse with her enduring love for Alaska,'' Davis said. ''It was her last gift. She was 95 years old.''

The committee heard from just one person opposed to the bill.

Pete Johnson of Fairbanks, said via teleconference the change was unnecessary and must have been proposed by people with too much time on their hands.

''There's a lot of real issues we could be dealing with,'' Johnson said.

The bill had only one House committee to clear, so it can now move to the full House for a vote. It has 24 co-sponsors in the House, assuring it's passage in that chamber. It must also pass the Senate.

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