Even more than six decades after her passing, Tlingit civil rights activist Elizabeth Kaaxgal.aat Peratrovich continues to be celebrated as a civil rights icon in Juneau as well as throughout Alaska and the nation.
Each year on Feb. 16, the state observes Elizabeth Peratrovich Day to recognize and honor her for her contributions to anti-discrimination in the state and her efforts toward passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 which was signed nearly two decades before the federal Civil Rights Act. The law made it illegal for people in Alaska to discriminate based on race, and Peratrovich is credited as being a major influence to its passing. She is particularly known for an impassioned speech she gave before the territorial Legislature urging passage of the act.
An article under the headline “Super Race Theory Hit In Hearing” in the Tuesday, Feb. 5, 1945, Daily Alaska Empire stated: ”Mrs. Roy Peratrovich, Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the last speaker to testify, climaxed the hearing by wringing volleying applause from the galleries and Senate floor alike, with a biting condemnation of the ‘super race’ attitude.”
Peratrovich’s wide-ranging impact is reflected in more than just the holiday as evidenced by many buildings, monuments and parks named in her honor. In recent years, libraries across the state were sent a biography of her and she was chosen to adorn the 2020 Native American $1 Coin along with being spotlighted by Google the same year after the company shared a Doodle of her created by a Southeast Alaska artist.
“The more we can hear stories like hers and talk about injustices is how we can change — you know, kids are not born prejudiced, they’re just not,” said Elizabeth Peratrovich’s granddaughter, Betsy Peratrovich, in an interview. “There is still so far to go, and I think she was so brave to stand up and it’s important that we keep talking about it. I am just so incredibly grateful.”
Things to do and places to see
— Visit the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day celebration at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.
An Elizabeth Peratrovich scavenger hunt and history celebration event are set to be hosted on Thursday at Juneau-Douglas City Museum between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. where residents can learn more about her life and her efforts toward the passing of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945.
“We are very excited,” said Elissa Borges, curator of public programs for the museum. “Our mission is to represent our community as a whole and we feel it’s an important message to learn about our local civil rights and Elizabeth Peratrovich was someone who really stood up and made a difference — she’s a local hero and it’s important to highlight her bravery and fight for rights in our community.”
Borges said the event is the first time the museum has collaborated with the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood along with Juneau School District to celebrate the day. She said that along with the scavenger hunt and history lessons, the event will feature nine submissions of art created by classrooms from across the district that include videos, poetry, stop animation and art.
“We’re really excited to come together to celebrate the day with the rest of the community,” she said.
— Check out the Elizabeth Peratrovich mural at the Downtown Public Library and Marine Parking Garage.
In the fall of 2021, Tlingit and Athabascan artist, Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl, unveiled a mural honoring the late Elizabeth Peratrovich depicted on an outside wall of the Downtown Public Library and Marine Parking Garage. The mural spans 60 feet wide by 25 feet tall and features the civil rights activist with a background of a modernized version of her clan crest, Lukaax.ádi of the Raven moiety, along with the Sockeye Salmon Crest. The city also renamed a nearby piece of waterfront property Peratrovich Plaza after the civil rights leader.
— Check out the House of Representatives gallery named for her.
The Alaska State Capitol’s House of Representatives offers a gallery in honor of Peratrovich, which is the location where she gave her famous speech urging legislators to pass the Alaska Equal Rights Act in 1945. Along with the gallery, a glass case holding a bronze bust of Elizabeth Peratrovich is featured upon entering the lobby of the Capitol.
— Visit her grave at Evergreen Cemetery.
Elizabeth Peratrovich was buried at Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery after she passed away at the age of 47 from breast cancer. Each year during the day the City and Borough of Juneau in coordination with Alaska Native Sisterhood open the cemetery to the public to allow people to visit her grave located near a Sitka spruce tree beside her husband, Roy Peratrovich, who was also a leader and activist for Alaska Native rights.
— Try knitting.
When she was not in front of the Legislature making impactful speeches, Elizabeth Peratrovich was known to knit during legislative sessions and was even doing so just moments before she gave her famous floor speech in front of the Territorial Senate nearly 80 years ago.
— Watch some wrestling on TV.
Betsy spoke to the Empire on behalf of her father, Roy Peratrovich Jr., who has advanced Parkinson’s disease was not available for an interview and said though her grandma is known might be an icon, she was also just a normal person who enjoyed everyday normal activities just like everyone else.
Speaking for her father, Betsy said Roy recalled back in the early 1950s when his parents bought a television and nothing seemed to get her grandmother more excited than watching wrestling, notably George Raymond Wagner, a professional wrestler known by his coined ring name “Gorgeous George.”
“She would pull up a chair in front of the TV and get excited and yell while watching matches,” Betsy said on behalf of her dad. “Dad said my grandpa would just laugh and laugh while watching her.”
— Attend a local basketball game.
Betsy said her grandmother also enjoyed watching basketball, and throughout her years living in Juneau she always attended the Juneau-based Gold Medal Tournament which will celebrate its 74th anniversary this March. The Thunder Mountain High School Basketball team is scheduled to host Palmer High School Thursday with a game starting at 7 p.m.
“One time they had the whole Sitka team over for Thanksgiving and everyone ate so much at dinner that there were groaning players passed out all over the stairs,” she said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.