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"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, addressing the Alaska State Senate as she testified in favor of the Anti-Discrimination Act, passed by the Legislature February 8, 1945, and signed into law by Governor Ernst Gruening on February 16, 1945.
Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich (July 4, 1911 - December 1, 1958) was an renowned Alaska Native civil rights leader and Grand Camp President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. After moving to Juneau, Elizabeth and her family faced appalling racism that made it difficult for them to find a home and excluded them from many public facilities. In response, Elizabeth, together with her husband, Roy Peratrovich, and then Governor Ernest Gruening, introduced Alaska's "Equal Rights" Bill to the Legislature in 1943. Elizabeth also gave incisive testimony in favor of the bill, which is credited with splitting opposition to the bill and facilitating its passage in 1945.
It is said that Elizabeth listened quietly to the opposition while Congressmen argued that the Bill would unnecessarily exacerbate racial tensions and that segregation was the real answer. After the debating was over, Elizabeth rose to speak. "I would not have expected," she began, "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."
The gallery erupted into applause when Elizabeth finished speaking, and the Alaska Civil Rights Act was passed 11-5 on February 16th.
In 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16th as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, memorializing her "courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska" (Alaska Statutes 44.12.065).