When carolyn Brown went looking for an Elizabeth Peratrovich biography about 10 years ago, she had a hard time finding one.
Now, she’s part of an effort that will bring a book about the Alaska Native civil rights icon, “The Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich,” to shelves in schools and libraries across the state.
“We need to educate people about the value of this women just as we educate people about the value of George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and so forth,” Brown said in an interview. “We wanted to get this book into literally every middle school and in every public library possible.”
Peratrovich was a Tlingit woman who is most known for an impassioned speech that helped convince the state Legislature to pass an Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945, nearly two decades before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The project to distribute the books around the state is a collaboration between the League of Women Voters — both the League of Women Voters, Alaska, and League of Women Voters of Juneau — and the Alaska State Library. Brown is a member of the Juneau league.
Patience Frederiksen, state librarian for the state library, said about 470 copies of “The Fighter in Velvet Gloves” by Annie Boochever with Roy Peratrovich Jr. will be distributed to libraries and schools throughout Alaska.
On Monday, volunteers formed what Brown called a “Henry Ford assembly line” to get the books ready to mail. Frederiksen said it’s hoped books will be on shelves by 2020. Brown said the book will also be given to lawmakers during the next session of the Legislature.
The state library contributed more than $2,500 from the book and will pay for postage, Frederiksen said. Funding came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Library Services and Technology Act. Brown said the League of Women Voters of Juneau has contributed $2,600 to the effort and the state league provided a grant of $1,500.
Both Brown and Frederiksen said the push to make the books as public as possible helps rectify a lack of biographical information about a woman who is significant enough to be featured on a $1 coin in 2020.
Brown said in 2007, she was part of an effort to circulate a movie made by Jeff Silverman about Peratrovich. When trying to find reading material about Peratrovich, Brown said she had a hard time finding anything other than a few short articles.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed.
“When Peratrovich Day would roll around, people would come in and ask for resources, and what we really had was a webpage and a photocopied article that was available in the historical collection,” Frederiksen said. “It was sort of embarrassing to have this fascinating women who kind of put the Legislature in its place when she leaned over the balcony and said to them what she said to them and to have so little on her.”
Filling that void is exactly what Annie Boochever was trying to do when she wrote “Fighter in Velvet Gloves” with Roy Peratrovich Jr., Elizabeth Peratrovich’s son.
“It became very clear that there were very few resources,” Boochever told the Empire in March 2018. “In 2014, my first book came out, ‘Bristol Bay Summer,’ and I decided to retire from teaching then, so I could devote more time to writing. A lot of colleagues said, ‘You’ve got to do a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich, but we need a book about her.’”
Boochever, who was an educator and librarian in Juneau before moving to Bellingham, Washington, said she’s pleased her book will be widely accessible and help teach people about Elizabeth Peratrovich.
“It’s just incredible and so needed,” Boochever said in an interview.
She said she just completed a tour of northern Alaska and found many people she spoke to did not know of Peratrovich.
“I think it’s opened up a, well, not a new part, an old part of Alaska history, but one that’s new to a lot of people,” Boochever said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt