Today Alaska celebrates the life and dedication of Elizabeth Peratrovich.
In 1945, the Anti-Discrimination Act came before the Alaska Territorial Senate. The bill had already passed the House, and Peratrovich was slated to testify on the bill’s behalf. The State Legislative Building was packed to the rafters, and the doors were left open so that those in the hallways could hear the proceedings.
A Juneau senator cemented his place in Alaska history with this question: “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?”
When Elizabeth Peratrovich testified, she responded with, “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.” She went on a passionate plea calling for equal treatment for Indigenous peoples in the state.
The bill passed the Senate 11-5 and was signed by Governor Gruening on February 16, 1945. Alaska was still a territory, and its Anti-Discrimination Act passed almost 20 years before the United States passed the Civil Rights Act.