“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”
Photo Credit: Alaska State Library
Native Alaskan Elizabeth Peratrovich is credited with helping pass the first anti-discrimination law in U.S. history back in 1945, two decades prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Peratrovich was born as Ḵaax̱gal.att (“person who packs for themselves”) into the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Tlingit Nation in Petersburg, Alaska in 1911. She was orphaned at a very young age and adopted by Andrew and Mary Wanamaker and became Elizabeth Jean Wanamaker. Upon her return to Alaska after college, she became horrified by the discrimination directed toward Native Alaskans. Her family had difficulty finding housing and jobs as it was common to find signs stating “No dogs or natives allowed” posted throughout the territory. Peratrovich lobbied government officials to support an anti-discrimination bill. She gave a passionate and powerful testimony during the Senate debate, which led to the Anti-discrimination Act of 1945 in Alaska, the first of its kind in U.S. history. Peratrovich continued to ardently fight racial discrimination against Alaskan Natives. She served as the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood and was also a member of the executive committee of the National Congress of American Indians. In 1988, February 16th was officially marked as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska. Later in 2020, Peratrovich was featured on a $1 coin produced by the U.S. Mint.