September 23, 2004
Senator Murkowski, who spoke Wednesday about the Peratrovich family before the National Congress of American Indians during a rally near the U.S. Capitol, is proposing legislation authorizing the President to have the U.S. Mint design and strike a gold medal in honor of the Southeast civil rights leaders. Murkowski who was joined in proposing the medal by Alaska senior Senator Ted Stevens, said the Mint by the law would also be authorized to produce and sell bronze duplicates of the medal to honor their accomplishments on behalf of all Alaskans.
Murkowski in her speech noted the accomplishments of the Peratrovich family who after the invasion of Pearl Harbor in 1941 publicly called on Alaska's Territorial Governor to end the rampant discrimination against Natives that prevented Natives from equal treatment in hotel accommodations, housing, dining and other activities. In 1943 they formally proposed the territories' first anti-discrimination measure - it failed to pass. In 1945 they tried again, the measure passing the Territory's House. "One by one (Territory) senators took to the floor to argue against the mixing of the races. One church leader testified it would take 30 to 100 years before Alaska Natives would reach the equality of the 'white' man.
"Then Elizabeth Peratrovich rose from the visitor's gallery and said she would like to be heard. In a quite, dignified and steady voice she said, 'I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded history behind them of our Bill of Rights.' When she finished, there was a wild burst of applause from the gallery and the Senate floor alike. The territorial Senate passed the bill by a vote of 11 to 5 and on Feb. 8, 1945 Alaska had an anti-discrimination law that provided that all citizens of the territory of Alaska are entitled to full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations - the bill passing 18 years before Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of his dream of civil rights for all on the steps of the Washington Monument and nearly 20 years before the U.S. Congress passed sweeping civil rights laws for the whole of American society," said Senator Murkowski.
Murkowski urged Alaska Natives and all Natives and American Indians to work within the political system for continued change. "If you want the political system to work for you, you must work within the system. That means coming out to vote this November and every November," Murkowski said to thousands on hand at the Capitol rally. Murkowski said she is proposing the congressional gold medal to give long overdue recognition to the efforts of the Peratrovich family and also to honor the history of all Alaska Natives during this grand opening week of the new National Museum of the American Indian that formally opened to the public on the National Mall on Tuesday. "We all take pride in our new National Museum of the American Indian and all that it represents. It represents the struggle of Native peoples for control of their land. It represents the struggle of Native peoples to preserve the language and distinct cultures in the face of pressures for assimilation. And it represents the triumph of Native cultures over the forces of intolerance," said Murkowski at the rally.
The Alaska Senator urged Congress not only to issue the Gold Medal to honor the Peratrovich family, but also urged Congress to redouble its efforts to provide full funding for Native health and education programs. Murkowski earlier this year offered and won a Senate amendment to increase funding for Native programs in the FY '05 budget by $292 million - the budget still pending final approval.
Good morning. I come before you this morning as a proud member of the Congressional Native American Caucus and a proud member of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs under the leadership of our great Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell.
I don't have to tell you what a special week this is for the first peoples of America and for my Native people of Alaska. We take pride in our new National Museum of the American Indian and all that it represents. It represents the struggle of Native peoples for control of their land. It represents the struggle of Native peoples to preserve the language and distinct cultures in the face of pressures for assimilation. And it represents the triumph of Native cultures over forces of intolerance.
And so today, I want to share with you the story of a Tlingit couple Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich. Roy and Elizabeth are to the Native peoples of Alaska what Dr. Martin Luther King is to African Americans.
Everybody knows about Dr. Martin Luther King, but hardly anyone outside the State of Alaska knows about Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich. That's going to change today.
Elizabeth was born in 1911, about seventeen years before Doctor King. She was born in Petersburg, Alaska . After college she married Roy Peratrovich and had three children.
Roy and Elizabeth moved to Juneau. They were excited about buying a new home. But they could not buy the house that they wanted because they were Native. They could not enter the stores or restaurants they wanted. Outside some of these stores and restaurants there were signs that read, "No Dogs or Natives 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. These is no distinction being made there. Yet when we patronized good business establishments we are told in most cases that Natives are not allowed."
"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 1943, the Alaska Legislature, at the behest of Roy and Elizabeth considered an anti-discrimination ordinance. It was defeated. But Roy and Elizabeth were not defeated. Two years later in 1945 . the anti-discrimination was back before the Alaska Legislature. It passed the lower house, but met with stiff opposition in the Alaska Senate.
One by one Senators took to the floor to argue against the mixing of the races. A church leader testified that it would take thirty to one hundred years before Alaska Natives would reach the equality of the white man.
Elizabeth Peratrovich rose from the visitor's gallery and said she would like to be heard. In a quiet, dignified and steady voice she said, "I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentleman with five thousand years of recorded history behind them of our Bill of Rights."
When she finished, there was a wild burst of applause from the gallery and the Senate floor alike. The territorial Senate passed the bill by a vote of eleven to five. On February 8, 1945, Alaska had an anti-discrimination law that provided all citizens of the Territory of Alaska are entitled to full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations.
That evening, Roy and Elizabeth could be seen dancing at the Baranof Hotel, one of Juneau's finest. Dancing among people they didn't know. Dancing in a place where the day before they were not welcome.
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 and enjoyed the fruits of their victory two years later.
Nineteen years before United States Congress prohibited discrimination in public accommodations in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Eighteen years before Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of his dream on the steps of the Washington monument Alaska had a civil rights law. Elizabeth would not live to see the United States adopt the same law she brought to Alaska in 1945. She passed away 1958.
Understand this lesson well. If you want the political system to work for you you must work within the system. That means coming out to vote this November and every November. Never forget that the people send us here and we are responsible to the people.
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