(Senate - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages S767-S768]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


 Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, there are few names in Alaska's 
history that exemplify progress and timeless impact more than Elizabeth 
Peratrovich. She is remembered as one of the greatest civil rights 
activists and female leaders Alaska has ever seen. Elizabeth and her 
husband Roy are to the Native peoples of Alaska what Dr. Martin Luther 
King, Jr., and Rosa Parks are to African Americans. Everybody knows 
about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but hardly anyone 
outside the State of Alaska knows about Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich. 
Today, I wish to again share the Peratrovich legacy with the Senate 
because February 16, 2013, the State of Alaska will observe Elizabeth 
Peratrovich Day for the 24th time. Activities to celebrate the legacy 
of Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich are taking place in schools and 
cultural centers throughout Alaska this week. The Alaska State Museum 
in Juneau is already honoring this remarkable woman in an exhibit 
entitled ``Alaskan. Native. Woman. Activist,'' which will run until 
March 16, 2013.
  In addition to the annual observance of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, 
the State of Alaska has acknowledged Elizabeth's contribution to 
history by designating one of the public galleries in the Alaska House 
of Representatives as the Elizabeth Peratrovich Gallery.
  Elizabeth, a member of the Lukaaxadi clan, in the Raven moiety of the 
Tlingit tribe, was born in Petersburg in 1911. After attending college 
she married Roy Peratrovich, a Tlingit from Klawock, Alaska, and the 
couple had three beautiful children. In 1941 the young family moved to 
Juneau, excited by the new opportunities the move would present. When 
the family found the perfect house, they were not allowed to buy it 
because they were Native. They could not enter the stores or 
restaurants they wanted. Outside some of these establishments, there 
were signs that read ``No Natives Allowed.'' History has also recorded 
a sign that read ``No Dogs or Indians allowed.''
  On December 30, 1941, following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, 
Elizabeth and Roy wrote to Alaska's Territorial Governor:

       In the present emergency our Native boys are being called 
     upon to defend our beloved country. There are no distinctions 
     being made there. Yet when we patronized business 
     establishments we are told in most cases that Natives are not 
       The proprietor of one business, an inn, does not seem to 
     realize that our Native boys are just as willing to lay down 
     their lives to protect the freedom he enjoys. Instead he 
     shows his appreciation by having a ``No Natives Allowed'' 
     sign on his door.

  In that letter Elizabeth and Roy also noted:

       We were shocked when the Jews were discriminated against in 
     Germany. Stories were told of public places having signs ``No 
     Jews Allowed.'' All freedom loving people were horrified at 
     what was being practiced in our own country.

  In 1943, the Alaska Legislature, at the behest of Roy and Elizabeth, 
considered an antidiscrimination law. It was defeated, but Roy and 
Elizabeth were not. Two years later, in 1945, the antidiscrimination 
measure was brought back before the Alaska Territorial Legislature. It 
passed the lower

[[Page S768]]

house, but was met with stiff opposition in the Territorial Senate.
  One by one, Senators took to the floor to debate the closely 
contested legislation. One Senator argued that ``the races should be 
kept further apart.'' This Senator went on to rhetorically question, 
``Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate 
with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?''
  Elizabeth Peratrovich was observing the debate from the gallery. As a 
citizen, she asked to be heard and in accordance with the custom of the 
day, was recognized to express her views.
  In a quiet, dignified and steady voice this ``fighter with velvet 
gloves'' responded, ``I would not have expected that I, who am barely 
out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of 
recorded history behind them of our Bill of Rights.''
  She was then asked by a Senator if she thought the proposed bill 
would eliminate discrimination. Elizabeth queried in rebuttal, ``Do 
your laws against larceny and even murder prevent these crimes? No law 
will eliminate crimes but at least you as legislators can assert to the 
world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak 
your intent to help us overcome discrimination.''
  When she finished her speech the room burst into thunderous applause. 
The territorial Senate passed the bill by a vote of 11 to 5. On 
February 16, 1945, before Alaska gained statehood, and before Dr. 
Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and 
spoke of his dream for equality, Alaskans passed an antidiscrimination 
bill that provided for full and equal enjoyment of public 
accommodations for all Alaskans.
  That night, Roy and Elizabeth celebrated. The two went dancing at the 
Baranof Hotel, one of Juneau's finest. They danced among people they 
didn't know, in a place where, the day before, they were unwelcome.
  There is an important lesson to be learned from the battles of 
Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich. Even in defeat, they knew that change 
would come from their participation in our political system. They were 
not discouraged by their defeat in 1943. They came back fighting 
stronger than ever and enjoyed the victory 2 years later.
  Elizabeth would not live to see the United States adopt the same law 
she brought to Alaska in 1945. She passed away in 1958, at the age of 
47, 6 years before civil rights legislation would pass nationally.
  Roy Peratrovich saw that event. He passed away in 1989 at age 81. He 
died 9 days before the first Elizabeth Peratrovich Day was observed in 
the State of Alaska. But the Peratrovich legacy and family live on. 
This past summer I had the opportunity to welcome Nathan Peratrovich, 
great-grandnephew of Roy and Elizabeth, to Washington DC. I was 
awestruck at the magnitude of his visit. Here was a young man who never 
knew the discrimination his ancestors knew. He was never told he could 
not enter a store because of his race. He was never denied access to a 
school because of who his parents were. As we looked down on the Senate 
floor from the Senate gallery, I encouraged Nathan by stating that one 
day he could represent Alaska in the United States Senate. Nathan grew 
up with all the rights and liberties every young boy should have. All 
of this was possible because of his family. Seeing his face and knowing 
what a significant impact his family had on his current wellbeing 
struck me with a sense of appreciation. It is with that appreciation I 
honor Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich today.