Honoring A Great Civil Rights Leader
story by MC Kauffman
Historical photo courtesy of Gigi Pilcher
February 14 , 2003
Working tirelessly with her husband Roy Peratrovich to overcome the prejudice and discrimination toward Alaska natives, Elizabeth's work and crucial testimony were instrumental in the passage of Alaska's first anti-discrimination law.
It was February, 1945. The Territorial Senate met as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the equal rights issue and a bill prohibiting racial discrimination in Alaska. According to the legislative custom of the time, an opportunity was offered to anyone present who wished to speak on the bill. Elizabeth Peratrovich was the final speaker on that day in 1945. After the long speeches and logical arguments were over, Elizabeth rose to tell the truth about prejudice.
"I would not have expected," she said "that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights."
Elizabeth Peratrovich talked to the Senate about herself, her friends, her children, and the cruel treatment that consigned Alaska Natives to a second class existence and described what it means to be unable to buy a house in a decent neighborhood because Natives aren't allowed to live there. She described how children feel when they are refused entrance into movie theaters, or see signs in shop windows that read "No dogs or Natives allowed."
When questioned by the Alaska Senate if the equal rights bill would eliminate discrimination in Alaska, it was her response that split the opposition and allowed the bill to pass. She answered, "Have you eliminated larceny or murder by passing a law against it? 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 closed her testimony with a biting condemnation of the "Super race" attitude responsible for such cruelty. Following her speech, there was a wild burst of applause from the Gallery, and the Senate proceeded to pass the Alaska Civil Rights Act by a vote of 11-5.
On that day in 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich represented her people as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. She was a champion of Alaska Natives and of all people who suffered from discrimination.
This weekend as we pause to remember and honor this great Alaskan civil rights leader, let us renew our dedication to the continuation of her efforts to achieve equality and justice for all Americans of every race, creed, and ethnic background throughout our great nation.
Local Events - Saturday - February 15, 2003:
Local Events - Sunday - February 16, 2003:
Learn more about the great civil rights leader Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich:
Editor's Note: Historical photograph
provided by Gigi Pilcher - converted to digital by Sitnews.