February 16 is marked as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in Alaska. A new book about the Tlingit leader has been written by a retired Juneau school teacher, and published by University of Alaska Press. The book for teens and adults tells the story of Civil Rights activism that changed Alaska.
Author Annie Boochever grew up in the Juneau neighborhood where Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich Senior had worked to make life better for Alaska Natives. As a teacher, Boochever knew of the Peratrovichs’ Civil Rights work, but didn’t have a lot of information to pass on to her students. So, she decided to write the book.
It is called ’Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich.
“It was hard to come up with a title, and then I ran across the quote by Stella Martin, a strong Tlingit leader who is no longer living. She was a friend of Elizabeth’s and she referred to her as ‘the fighter in velvet gloves.’”
Boochever says Elizabeth Peratrovich was known for her high style and fashionable dressing. Her son, Roy Peratrovich Junior, worked closely with Boochever on the book, which is aimed at teens and young adults. It tells the story of the racism that was legal and institutionalized before the passage of the Alaska Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. Boochever says it is something all Alaskans should know.
“Looking at old newspaper articles from the 1920s and 1930s – the way that they spoke about Alaska Natives was horrific.”
David James, a Fairbanks book reviewer wrote that the book should be in every school in the state to help students understand that racist time and make changes going forward.
“I think they would understand that there’s a history there, but there’s also some pretty bad things that are still happening in the broader society.”
Roy and Elizabeth were drawn to Civil Rights activism and in the 1940s Elizabeth was the Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand President. In that position, she addressed the Alaska Territorial Legislature in 1945. They had voted down an anti-discrimination law two years before, but activists kept trying.
Those velvet gloves? As awkward as it may sound with 2019 sensibilities, Elizabeth’s fashion style may be the trademark she is known for.
“She was a complete surprise to most of the legislators, at that time, and they were blown away by her.”
Elizabeth Peratrovich was the last to testify before the territorial Senate voted on the bill in 1945, and her speech was said to have moved the all-white, all-male Senate to pass the bill.
The law was signed on Feb. 16, 1945 by territorial governor, Ernest Greuening.
The book’s official publication date is, of course, February 16, 2019.