“No law will eliminate crimes but at least you as legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.”Elizabeth Peratrovich – From her speech to the 1945 Alaska Senate during the debate of an anti-discrimination bill
Alaska Native civil rights champion Elizabeth Peratrovich, who played an instrumental role in the 1945 passage of the first anti-discrimination law in the United States was born.
Elizabeth Peratrovich Tlingit name Kaaxgal.aat, was a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Raven moiety. Elizabeth Peratrovich was an American civil rights activist, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, and member of the Tlingit nation who worked for equality on behalf of Alaska Natives.
For many, Elizabeth Peratrovich is the face of Alaska Native civil rights. She was one of the main driving forces to ensure the passing of the territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, which was the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.
On February 16, Alaskans honor her memory with gatherings and some visit the gravesite where she is buried alongside her husband, Roy Peratrovich.
Peratrovich has awards, monuments, and buildings named in her honor, including the Elizabeth Peratrovich Award, the Peratrovich Gallery in the Alaska House of Representatives, and a theater in Ketchikan’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center is also named after her. A park in downtown Anchorage is named for her and her husband.
Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is a local observance in Alaska where some offices, institutions, and shops may be closed.
Elizabeth Peratrovich was born on July 4, 1911 in Petersburg, Alaska. She was an Alaska Native of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Tlingit nation (also spelled Tlinkit), an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. While she was still very young, she was adopted by Andrew and Mary Wanamaker, a Tlingit couple, and named Elizabeth Wanamaker.
In 1931, she married Roy Peratrovich (1908–1989), and together they spent their lives fighting for civil rights and against widespread discrimination against Alaska Natives.
In her testimony before the territorial Senate voted on the Anti-Discrimination Act, she famously responded to derogatory comments made by a senator: “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”
Peratrovich’s effort and testimony are considered to have been decisive in ensuring that the law passed, nearly 20 years before the US Congress established the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On February 6, 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. February 16 was chosen as it was the day the Anti-Discrimination Act was signed in 1945.
Elizabeth Peratrovich – Civil Rights Activist – Associated Links:
- Elizabeth Peratrovich | Biography | University of Alaska
- “Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich” | Amazon
Elizabeth Peratrovich – Civil Rights Activist- Related Links:
- “What is Elizabeth Peratrovich? The Story Behind the Country’s First Anti-Discrimination Law” | Highway History
- “A Recollection of Civil Rights Leader Elizabeth Peratrovich” | Alaskool Organization
- “Remembering Elizabeth Peratrovich Alaska’s civil rights legacy” | NEA-Alaska
- “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day” | National Indian Council for Aging
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