Elizabeth Peratrovich was a civil rights activist who worked to eliminate discrimination against Alaska Natives during the early 1940s. Peratrovich tireless efforts fighting for equal rights and her candid testimony before the territorial Senate about the effects and consequences of discrimination paid off on February 16, 1945, when the Anti-Discrimination Act passed. Alaska became the first state and territory in the US to establish an anti-discrimination law, preceding the passage of the Civil Rights Act by almost 20 years.
Peratrovich was an Alaska Native, a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Tlingit nation. At 20 years old, she married Roy Scott Peratrovich, also a Tlingit, and they had three children. Seeking out job opportunities, they moved to Juneau and lived in a non-Native neighborhood (one of the first Native families). Their activism work started when they encountered discrimination against Native Americans, as well as public places that were prohibited to them with signs – “No dogs or Natives allowed.” They drafted and introduced an anti-discrimination bill in 1941, and although it did not pass, they worked for 4 years promoting it till they were able to bring it before the Alaska Senate. In her historic speech to the Senate, she said one of her most famous quotes- “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.”
Since 1988, Peratrovich Day is celebrated annually in Alaska on February 16 – the date on which the Anti-Discrimination passed. It is honoring Peratrovich’s courage, actions, and dedication to shed light on injustice against the indigenous peoples of Alaska and bring equal rights for the (then) territory. On the day, there are various events throughout the state commemorating her legacy, including memorial gatherings and visits to her gravesite at the Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau, Alaska.