Elizabeth Peratrovich, who played an instrumental role in the 1945 passage of the first anti-discrimination law in the United States. In 1941, after encountering an inn door sign that read “No Natives Allowed,” Peratrovich and her husband–both of Alaska’s Indigenous Tlingit tribe–helped plant the seed for the anti-discrimination law when they wrote a letter to Alaska’s governor and gained his support.
Elizabeth Peratrovich—whose Tlingit name is Kaaxgal.aat, a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Raven moiety—was born on July 4, 1911 in Petersburg, Alaska during a time of extensive segregation in the territory. She was lovingly raised by adoptive parents, living in various small Southeast Alaska communities throughout her childhood. With a passion for teaching, Peratrovich attended college in Bellingham, Washington where she also became reacquainted with her husband, Roy Peratrovich, who was a student at the same school. The couple married and moved to Klawock, Alaska where their role in local politics and Elizabeth’s knack for leadership drove her heavy involvement with the Alaska Native Sisterhood, one of the oldest civil rights groups in the world, leading to her eventual appointment as the organization’s Grand President.
Seeking better access to lawmakers who could help effect change, the Peratrovichs moved in 1941 with their three children to the Alaskan capital of Juneau, where they were met with blatant discrimination. When attempting to buy a home in their new city, they were denied when the sellers saw they were of Alaska Native descent. Instances like these were unfortunately common for Alaska’s Indigenous peoples and further motivated Peratrovich to take action in the name of systemic change.
Elizabeth and Roy worked with others to draft Alaska’s first anti-discrimination bill, which was introduced in 1941 and failed to pass. On February 5, 1945 following years of perseverance, a second anti-discrimination bill was brought before the Alaska Senate, and Peratrovich took to the floor to deliver an impassioned call for equal treatment for Indigenous peoples. She was met with thunderous applause throughout the gallery, and her moving testimony is widely credited as a decisive factor in the passage of the historic Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945.
In 1988 the Alaska State Legislature declared February 16 as “Elizabeth Peratrovich Day,” and in 2020 the United States Mint released a $1 gold coin inscribed with Elizabeth’s likeness in honor of her historic achievements in the fight for equality.
Thank you, Elizabeth Peratrovich, for helping to build the foundation for a more equitable future.
(Taken from Google Doodles)