In February 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich, a civil rights leader for Alaska Natives, rose to address the Territorial Senate. The senate was meeting as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the equal rights issue and a bill prohibiting racial discrimination in Alaska.
Elizabeth Peratrovich addressed the body, saying, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind the gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.”
She talked about the cruel treatment that consigned Alaska Natives to a second-class existence. She described what it meant to be denied the right to buy a house in a decent neighborhood because Natives weren’t allowed to live there. She described how children felt when they were refused entrance into movie theaters, or saw signs in windows that read “No dogs or Natives allowed.”
Following her speech, there was a wild burst of applause from the gallery. The Senate was shamed into passing the Alaska Civil Rights Act by a vote of 11-5. On that day, Elizabeth Peratrovich represented her Tlingit people, and all Alaska Natives, as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.
In 1988, the Alaska State Legislature established February 16th as the annual Elizabeth Peratrovich Day to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
To learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich, see “For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska” at (www.alaskacivilrights.org).