In Alaska, especially Southeast Alaska where Prince of Wales Island is located, the name Elizabeth Jean Peratrovich brings a smile to the faces of the many residents who think of her and the enormous contributions she made as a civil rights activist advocating for the rights of Native Alaskans. Her advocacy was pivotal in the passage of Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Bill in 1945 when it was still a territory. This bill was the first of it’s kind in the United States and paved the way for others.
This year, which marks the 75th anniversary of the passage of that historic bill, our entire Nation is honoring her by featuring her on the reverse side of the 2020 $1 coin from the US Mint. The dollar coin program produces a new coin every year in "recognition of important contributions made by Native American tribes and individual Native Americans to the history and development of the United States". She is the first Native Alaskan to receive this honor.
Elizabeth was born on the 4th of July in 1911 in Petersburg, Alaska. She and her husband Roy Peratrovich, who is also an important figure in Alaskan history, lived in a few communities throughout Southeast Alaska including Ketchikan, Klawock and Juneau. She was a member of the Tlingit nation and the Raven moiety. Throughout her life, which was sadly cut short due to cancer, she was a beacon of hope and change for Native Alaskans who had suffered greatly from discriminatory practices throughout Alaska. The statement she gave during the Senate hearing over the Anti-Discrimination bill is regarded as the deciding factor in its passage, which faced strong opposition.
Today, she continues to be held in the highest regard due to the long-lasting impact her work has had on the lives of Native Alaskans past and present, near and far. Over the years, there have been many honors in her remembrance. In 1988, the State of Alaska named February 16 Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, which marks the day the bill was passed. The Alaska Native Sisterhood, of which she was the president, established the Elizabeth Peratrovich Award. In 1992, Gallery B of the Alaska State Senate was renamed after her; the first one named after a non-politician. In 2003, a park in Anchorage was named after her and her husband Roy. In 2009, a documentary about her work, For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow, was premiered. The theater in Ketchikan’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center was named after her in 2017. The National Women’s History Project honored her in 2018 for Women’s History Month. Finally, in 2019, a book about her, Fighter in Velvet Gloves, co-authored by one of her sons, was published.
Alaskans are thrilled that Elizabeth is getting her moment on the National stage so everyone in America can have the opportunity to learn about her and the positive contribution she made not only to the Native Alaskan community but to the entire country. Hers is a legacy that needs to be remembered, and our hope is that her story will serve as a catalyst for others to continue following in her footsteps.