A young Alaska Native woman left an impression on Alaska’s territorial Senate in 1945, delivering a speech that led to the passage of the nation’s first anti-discrimination law.
Now, the late Elizabeth Peratrovich is leaving her impression on a $1 coin.
The U.S. Mint unveiled the design of the coin Saturday at the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood convention in Anchorage. The 2020 Native American coin will go on sale early next year.
The coin will feature a portrait of the late civil rights leader -- composed and graceful, her hair in tight rolls -- above words that highlight her legacy: “Anti-discrimination Law of 1945.” An image of a raven, depicting her Tlingit lineage, soars near her.
“The coin will be a lasting tribute to Elizabeth Peratrovich and her relentless efforts to tear down the wall of discrimination against Alaska Natives," said Patrick Hernandez, acting deputy director of the U.S. Mint. “Perhaps Elizabeth was like the raven, crying out until the darkness of discrimination was dispelled.”
The coin will teach the world about Peratrovich’s brave acts and “what Alaska was like" and wants to be in the future, said Gov. Mike Dunleavy, speaking after the coin’s unveiling.
“This is history in the making,” said Dunleavy, who on Saturday also signed a bill that establishes November as Alaska Native Heritage Month. “There will be people not just in Alaska, not just in this country, but in this world that will understand what this courageous woman did for all of humanity.”
Peratrovich and her husband, Roy Peratrovich, championed the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act depicted on the coin.
During the World War II years in Juneau, they were appalled by the “White Trade Only” signs they saw outside public establishments, said Jackie Pata, a Tlingit and former executive director of National Congress of American Indians.
Leaders of the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Peratrovich couple traveled to Alaska communities, building support against discrimination, Pata said. They sought help from from territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening, who signed the bill into law on Feb. 16, now Elizabeth Peratrovich day.
At the age of 33, Peratrovich uttered her memorable testimony after a territorial senator suggested that people “barely out of savagery” shouldn’t associate with "whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization.”
“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 answered.
Elizabeth’s passionate testimony changed the vote, Pata said Saturday. The bill guaranteed equal access in restaurants, hotels and other places nearly 20 years before Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“That small woman who stood there in that Legislature, had more power than those she stood amongst," Pata said.
Later, Elizabeth fought for health care and educational rights, and for Alaska Natives to become part of the National Congress of American Indians, Pata said.
The Native American coin program, the result of an act passed by Congress in 1997, honors a Native American person or tribe each year. One side always features Sacagawea, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who assisted the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The Mint worked with Alaska Natives to help design the Elizabeth Peratrovich coin, officials with the agency said.
It can be spent or collected, and will be produced at the U.S. Mints in Denver and Philadelphia, said Michael White, a spokesman with the U.S. Mint.
A roll of 25 will cost $32.95, a bag of 100 will cost $111.95 and boxes of 250 will cost $275.95, White said.
Peratrovich died in 1958, at age 47.
“Even at this moment, she is still speaking,” said Paulette Moreno, grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood.