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Bipartisan Support Gained For Awarding Congressional Gold Medals to Native Civil Rights Leaders Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich


October 11, 2004

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced Sunday she has gained bipartisan backing in an effort to provide long overdue recognition to two leaders of Alaska's Native civil rights movement - Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich and her husband Roy Peratrovich. Last month Murkowski proposed to posthumously grant a Congressional gold medal to honor their contributions to the nation's civil rights effort.

Senator Murkowski this past weekend gained the backing of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, for her legislation to authorize 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 originally 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 said she hoped the bipartisan support will help speed passage of the legislation, possibly later this fall. When she introduced the measure Sept. 22nd Murkowski 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 said she is proposing the congressional gold medal to give long overdue recognition to the efforts of the Peratrovich family.


Source of News:

Office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski
Web Site


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