Who was Elizabeth Peratrovich? Google Doodle honors Alaska Native civil rights champion inscribed on $1 gold coin
Google's Doogle often offers a sweet spot to pay tribute to the illustrious life of famous personalities and celebrities. On December 30, 2020, the doodle — illustrated by Sitka and Alaska-based guest artist Michaela Goade — celebrated Alaska Native civil rights champion Elizabeth Peratrovich, who played an instrumental role in the 1945 passage of the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.
On this day in 1941, after encountering an inn door sign that read “No Natives Allowed”, Peratrovich and her husband – both of Alaska’s Indigenous Tlingit tribe — helped plant the seed for the anti-discrimination law when they wrote a letter to Alaska’s governor and gained his support.
Did you know the Alaska State Legislature declared February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in 1988? Not just that, the United States Mint released a $1 gold coin inscribed with Elizabeth’s likeness in honor of her historic achievements in the fight for equality in 2020. Here's a slice of her life and her notable achievements.
Who was Elizabeth Peratrovich?
A member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan of the Raven moiety, Elizabeth Peratrovich — whose Tlingit name is Kaaxgal.aat — was born on July 4, 1911, in Petersburg, Alaska.
Sketching out her early life, the Google Doodle reads, “She was lovingly raised by adoptive parents, living in various small Southeast Alaska communities throughout her childhood. With a passion for teaching, Peratrovich attended college in Bellingham, Washington where she also became reacquainted with her husband, Roy Peratrovich, who was a student at the same school.”
In the 1940s, her advocacy was instrumental in the first anti-discrimination law called Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. In 1988, the Alaska Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day “for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska”. In March 2019, her obituary was added to The New York Times as part of their ‘Overlooked No More’ series.
Who was her husband Roy Peratrovich?
The couple married and moved to Klawock, Alaska, where their role in local politics and Elizabeth’s knack for leadership drove her heavy involvement with the Alaska Native Sisterhood, one of the oldest civil rights groups in the world, leading to her eventual appointment as the organization’s Grand President.
Seeking better access to lawmakers who could help effect change, the Peratrovichs moved in 1941 with their three children to the Alaskan capital of Juneau, where they were met with blatant discrimination. When attempting to buy a home in their new city, they were denied when sellers saw they were of Alaska Native descent. Instances like these were unfortunately common for Alaska’s Indigenous peoples and further motivated Peratrovich to take action in the name of systemic change.
Elizabeth and Roy worked with others to draft Alaska’s first anti-discrimination bill, which was introduced in 1941 and failed to pass. On February 5, 1945, following years of perseverance, a second anti-discrimination bill was brought before the Alaska Senate, and Peratrovich took to the floor to deliver an impassioned call for equal treatment for Indigenous peoples.
She was met with thunderous applause throughout the gallery, and her moving testimony is widely credited as a decisive factor in the passage of the historic Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945.