Tag Archives: Juneau

Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit Activist

Young Peratrovich 420 res“No Natives Allowed” read the notice on a hotel door in Douglas, Alaska.

Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband, Roy, Tlingit natives, had seen such signs before, growing up as they had in a segregated Alaska, with separate schools, hospitals, theaters, restaurants and cemeteries for whites and for natives. But this time something stirred within them, and so they wrote to territorial governor Ernest Gruening, and began their campaign to fight discrimination in Alaska. It would be a long, hard fight. An article in the Nov-Dec, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine tells Elizabeth’s story.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) was born in Petersburg, District of Alaska, a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan, in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation. In 1931, at the age of 20, she married Roy Peratrovich, (1908–1989), also a Tlingit, of mixed native and Serbian descent who worked in a cannery. They lived in Klawock, where Roy was elected to four terms as mayor, and they had three children. Looking for greater opportunities, they moved their family to Juneau, the capital of what was by then the Alaska Territory. 

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Alaska Native Brotherhood, 1929

In Juneau, the Peratroviches found extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives, and signs banning Native entry to public facilities. The Peratroviches were active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and its counterpart, the Sisterhood. By 1944, Roy and Elizabeth were leading their respective sides of the organization.

They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to ban the “No Natives Allowed” signs then common in that city and elsewhere. Gruening agreed with the Peratroviches, and they joined forces. In 1943, they attempted to usher an antidiscrimination bill through Alaska’s Territorial Legislature. It failed, with a tie vote of 8-8 in the House. Undaunted, the Peratroviches traveled across the territory urging Natives to get involved, to run for political seats, to challenge the status quo and work toward change. 

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Alaska Native Sisterhood

As leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the Peratroviches redoubled their efforts, and a new antidiscrimination bill reached the Senate floor on February 5, 1945. By then two Natives had been elected to the territory’s legislature, including Roy’s brother Frank, and Alaska’s House had already approved the bill. There were so many onlookers that the crowd spilled out of the gallery doors and into the hall. 

An article in the March 20, 2019 New York Times explained what happened next: “Senator Allen Shattuck argued that the measure would ‘aggravate rather than allay’ racial tensions. “‘Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?’ he was quoted as saying in Gruening’s 1973 autobiography, Many Battles.

Elizabeth_Peratrovich 420 res“When the floor was opened to public comments, Peratrovich set down her knitting needles and rose from her seat in the back. Taking the podium, she said: ‘I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind the gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.’

“She gave examples of the injustices that she and her family had faced because of their background and called on the lawmakers to act. ‘You as legislators,’ she said, ‘can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.’

“Elizabeth’s calm, measured, and eloquent testimony shamed the opposition into what The Daily Alaska Empire termed a ‘defensive whisper.’ The gallery broke out in ‘a wild burst of applause,’ and the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act was passed by a vote of 11 to 5. Governor Gruening signed the bill into law on Feb. 16, a date now honored by the state each year. The new legislation entitled all Alaskans to “full and equal enjoyment” of public establishments, set a misdemeanor penalty for violators of the law, and banned posting of discriminatory signs based on race.

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Territorial Governor Gruening signs the legislation, Feb. 16, 1945. L to R: Sen. O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Rep. Edward Anderson, Sen. Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich.

In 1954, Roy Peratrovich accepted a position with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the family moved to Oklahoma. Two years later Elizabeth learned that she had breast cancer, and they returned to Juneau. When her illness worsened, she was admitted to a Christian Science care center in Seattle, where her son, Roy Jr., was attending college. She died on Dec. 1, 1958, at the age of only 47, and was buried in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery.

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Fighter in Velvet Gloves is the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich, by Annie Boochever and Roy Peratrovich, Jr., published in February, 2019 by the University of Alaska Press. Annie writes on her website, “As a former librarian and teacher in Juneau, I had long wished for a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich that was accessible to younger readers. When Roy said he would help me document his mother’s legacy, I was thrilled.”

Elizabeth’s son, Roy Jr., would become the first Alaska Native to be registered as a professional civil engineer, designing the original Brotherhood Bridge over the Mendenhall River near Juneau. The Brotherhood Bridge symbolized the bridging of the gap between Native and non-Native Alaskans, and among those attending the dedication of the original Brotherhood Bridge were his father, Roy Sr. who represented the Alaska office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his uncle, Frank Peratrovich, a state senator from Klawock.

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Ravenworks Art

A gallery of the Alaska House of Representatives has been named in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich, the only one named for someone other than a former legislator, and a bronze bust sculpted by her son Roy Jr. is on permanent display in the lobby of the State Capitol. Roy writes on his website, “I have shown my mother in an evening wrap, as she looked the night she and Dad celebrated the passage of Alaska’s first Anti-Discrimination Bill. They danced all night at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, February 16, 1945.”

Peratrovich coin 420 resIn 2018, Elizabeth Peratrovich was chosen by the National Women’s History Project as one of its honorees, and in 2020 the United States Mint will commemorate her legacy on a one dollar coin. From the U.S. Mint website: “The obverse (heads) design retains the central figure of the “Sacagawea” design first produced in 2000.

“The reverse (tails) design features a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich, whose advocacy was considered a deciding factor in the passage of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Law in the Alaskan Territorial Government. The foreground features a symbol of the Tlingit Raven moiety, of which she was a member.”

 

 

 

A People at Large

Copper-TintsThe following is a chapter from a slim book titled Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

A People at Large

That more or less indefinite region north of the Yukon known as the Chandalar Country owes its name to one given by the early French-Canadian traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the singular native tribes that ranged there. Because these came from none knew where, recognizing no boundaries and taking to themselves no local designations, they were called gens de large––people at large. With peculiar fitness the name applies to all Alaskans, for in more ways than one we are a people at large. Coming from everywhere, we go vagrantly here and there, ranging over a great area. A vast country is ours, and in appropriating it to ourselves we recognize no local limitations. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than with us of the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. Here, midway of all adventurings into and out of the Territory, from contact and habit we think in terms of far places. And so, in our common concerns we speak an itinerant tongue. 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

To us, all the world is divided into two parts: Alaska and Elsewhere. And in reference to either, one talks in none but generalities. That portion of the globe which in a definite and specific way stands for civilization must never be specifically named; far too remote and magical is it for that! Seattle, San Francisco, New York, are never referred to as such, but with grandiose cosmopolitanism as “The Outside.”

Similarly, the country to the north in any direction is “The Interior.” The Tanana, the Koyukuk, the Iditarod, the Kuskokwim or the Porcupine Country, each a remote and vasty section of the great Territory, is definitely enough, Inside. And so with Coast destinations. En route to Anchorage or Kodiak, Nushagak or St. Michaels, a difference of a thousand miles or two one way or the other calls for no special designation; one journeys nonchalantly “to The Westward.” Even a jaunt to Juneau or Ketchikan is “to the Panhandle.” Speaking judiciously, the terms may be varied by reference to the First, Second, or Fourth Division. But to particularize on their respective centers as Sitka, Nome or Fairbanks is to confess a perspective unworthy of any but a chechako! 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

Long accustomed to measure his journeys by the hundred miles, his time by weeks and months, the real Alaskan is aware only of magnificent distances. Excursions by canoe and dog-team through regions noted only for their part in leading to the place he is bound for, have evolved in him but a passing interest in way-stations. It is a habit of years, which the coming of rapid transit and the consequent shrinking of space have failed to alter. A few hours’ trip by railway to Chitina, Strelna or Kennekott is invariably a run “up the Line,” while to continue to Gulkana or Paxson’s Roadhouse, even by automobile, is to go in ‘over The Trail.” By the same incorrigible vagrancy have the very railway stations been tagged, the place at which the trains stops to take on water or let off a lone prospector bound for his diggings being denoted no more specifically than as Mile 39, Mile 72, or Mile 115! 

The truth is that there is an engaging picturesqueness about all this. Alaskan names are in themselves all compact of romance. Traces left by the geography of early navigators and the mixed jargon of sealers and whalers, the marks of the Muskovite and the Oriental, remain in the nomenclature of a land that was an Eldorado long before the Pilgrims stepped on Plymouth Rock. Always the Mecca of adventurers, the country is permeated with the tang of the Seven Seas. To this the modern Alaskan instinctively reacts, his own inordinate love of the wilderness plunging him naturally into the language of Vagabondia. 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

How long will this continue, who knows? The land is fast taking on the meagerness of civilization. Into it is coming the settler with his stationary mind, his paucity of imagination. And so, in the not too distant future we may see certain transformations. We, too, may have our Smith’s Coves, our Jonesville Crossings, our Schaefer’s Creeks; our Christianias, New Warsaws. Already the signs appear. But for a little while yet the land is ours. And until progress claims it for its own, it is our delight in our speech of it to indulge the inborn romanticism of the pioneer. 

~from Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

The entire book can be read at this Google Books link.

 

From Our Pages

May-June 220 pixels wideIn the May-June, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine a photo feature focuses on the intrepid pioneer photographers who captured images of our past while working with bulky cameras in the northland’s adverse and often dangerous conditions. In this first of a series of posts relating to the magazine I’m sharing an excerpt from that article in the magazine – and expanding on it to include related photos and links to more information. In the example below on Clarence L. Andrews, the text and the photo of “Anarok’s wife” appeared in the magazine, while the photographs of Andrews, his book covers, and the steamer ‘Monarch’ did not. Also added are the links to the publications he photographed for, and Andrews’ papers at the UAA/APU Consortium Library in Anchorage.

Clarence Leroy Andrews

Clarence Leroy Andrews

Clarence Leroy Andrews came to Alaska in 1897 as part of a climbing expedition to Mt. St. Elias. He spent time in Sitka, in Skagway during the gold rush, in Eagle as a customs agent, 1904-1906. Between 1923 and 1929, he traveled throughout the Arctic as a surveyor for the School and Reindeer Service for the Alaska Bureau of Education.

Andrews was a journalist and photographer for the Alaska-Yukon Magazine and for Juneau’s Alaska Daily Empire (published from 1912-1926). In his later years, Andrews wrote numerous books and articles about Alaska and the Eskimos.

Anaroc's wife, Kivalina 1924 C.L. Andrews

Anarok’s Wife, Kivalina. 1924. [C.L. Andrews papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage. uaa-hmc-0059-27]

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The Monarch steamer on the Yukon River at Eagle, Alaska, 1904.
Clarence Leroy Andrews papers, 1892-1946. UAA-HMC-0059

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Andrews’ many books on early Alaska can often be found at eBay, Amazon, and similar online booksellers.