Today is Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska. In 1945, during the debate in the Alaska Territorial Legislature on a bill mandating equal accommodation for people of all races, a senator asked “who are these people, barely out of savagery, to demand equality with people with 5 thousand years of civilization behind them?” In 1945 it was the custom to allow testimony from the Senate Gallery. Elizabeth Peratrovich rose and said:
“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 or Rights. When my husband and I came to Juneau and sought a home in a nice neighborhood where our children could play happily with our neighbors’ children, we found such a house and had arranged to lease it. When the owners learned that we were Indians, they said ‘no.’ Would we be compelled to live in the slums?”
“There are three kinds of persons who practice discrimination. First, the politician who wants to maintain an inferior minority group so that he can always promise them something. Second, the Mr. and Mrs. Jones who aren’t quite sure of their social position and who are nice to you on one occasion and can’t see you on others, depending on who they are with. Third, the great superman who believes in the superiority of the white race.”
The bill passed. That night, even though the law was not yet in effect, Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich danced, for the first time, in the Baranof Hotel ballroom. Today we all dance in Elizabeth and Roy’s honor.
Thanks to “Planet Alaska” for posting these pictures that I have used.