Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska Date in the current year: February 16, 2024

Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska In 1988, the Alaska Legislature declared February 16 Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. It honors a famous civil rights activist whose advocacy is considered to be instrumental to the passing of the first state/territorial anti-discrimination law in the United States.

Elisabeth Peratrovich was born on July 4, 1911 in Petersburg, Mitkof Island. Her parents, who died when she was still a baby, belonged to the Tlingit nation. The girl was adopted by Andrew and Jean Wanamaker, who named her Elizabeth Jean.

Upon graduating from high school, Elizabeth attended college in Sitka, Alaska and in Bellingham, Washington. While in Washington, she met her future husband, cannery worker Roy Peratrovich, who was of mixed Tlingit and Serbian descent. They married in 1931 and spent several years in Washington before moving to Juneau looking for better job opportunities.

In Juneau, the couple faced extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives. It was harder for indigenous Alaskans to secure housing because they were not welcome in white neighborhoods. Besides, public facilities such as theaters, swimming pools and even playgrounds in Alaska were segregated.

In 1941, the Peratrovichs petitioned the governor of Alaska to prohibit public places from denying Alaska Natives access and posting signs saying “No dogs or Natives allowed”. With the help of other members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the couple began drafting a bill that would end the segregation and disenfranchisement of Alaska Natives.

Unfortunately, their first attempt to pass anti-discrimination legislation failed in 1943. For two years, the Peratrovichs lobbied the territorial legislators and worked with the governor to increase support for the anti-discrimination bill. In 1945, the bill was finally brought before the Alaska Senate. Most senators were so impressed by Elizabeth’s impassioned speech in support of the bill that it was adopted by eleven votes to five. On February 16, 1945, the governor signed it into law.

The Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945, also known the Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945, was the first anti-discrimination law adopted by a state or territorial legislature and enacted in the United States. It abolished the so-called Jim Craw laws, which enforced racial segregation, and criminalized racial discrimination. According to the new law, discriminatory actions based on race were made punishable with a $250 fine and up to 30 days in a jail.

In 1988, the Alaska Legislature established the anniversary of the law’s signing as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day to highlight her efforts to promote equality and end discrimination. This day is marked with special events dedicated to Elizabeth Peratrovich and other civil rights activists who made the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945 possible. Some people visit her and Roy’s gravesite to pay their respects. Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is not a public holiday, so government offices and businesses have normal opening hours.

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Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska, holidays in Alaska, holidays in the United States, Anti-Discrimination Law of 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovi