Equal rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich

Governor Ernest Gruening signs the bill to end discrimination on February 16, 1945. Photo by the Alaska State Library Collection.

by Greg Lincoln

On February 16 each year we remember and honor Elizabeth Peratrovich, a strong and brave Tlingit woman who through her heroic efforts on behalf of all Alaska Natives stood to end discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska.

Her work resulted in the passage of the resolution by the Legislature entitled “an Act to provide for full and equal accommodations, facilities, and privileges to all citizens in places of public accommodations within the jurisdiction of the Territory of Alaska; to provide penalties for violation.

In 1945, as Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), Elizabeth Peratrovich worked tirelessly with her husband, Roy Peratrovich, who was Grand President of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), in their efforts to successfully lobby for anti-discrimination legislation.

Her vision, humanitarian work, and passionate testimonies were deeply moving and persuasive, inspiring the Legislature of the Territory of Alaska to pass the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, ensuring the dignity and equality of Alaska Natives.

“I would not have expected 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,” said Peratrovich during her powerful testimony.

On February 8, 1945, a bill to end discrimination in Alaska passed the senate by a vote of 11 to 5. And on February 16, 1945, Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening signed the Act into law, marking the first anti-discrimination bill introduced and passed in Alaska, enacted nearly 20 years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2012, the Alaska State Legislature passed a bill designating February 16 of each year as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in honor of the late ANS Grand President’s devoted pursuit to end discrimination. Governor Sean Parnell signed the bill into law on January 28, 2012. Governor Bill Walker issued a proclamation declaring February 16, 2017 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

In Sitka at Mount Edgecumbe High School, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is commemorated during Founders Week each year in February.

Elizabeth Wanamaker was born on July 4, 1911. At the time of her testimony she was 34 years old. We honor you on this day and every day.