Fighter in Velvet Gloves

The true story of Alaskan civil rights hero Elizabeth Peratrovich
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Alaskans of all ages, Native and non-Native, stood shoulder to shoulder, some on chairs. It was only the second time in the history of America that a bill to end discrimination had come up for an official vote, and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still two decades away. Mom looked first to the gallery, then to the legislators behind their wooden desks. When she was confident she had everyone’s attention, she began to speak. This is the story of how my mother came to give a speech that helped Alaska lead all of America in the battle for civil rights.

— From Roy Peratrovich Jr.’s Introduction to Fighter in Velvet Gloves

Chapter 14

If anyone in the room thought the young woman before them would mince her words, they quickly realized their mistake.

Senator Shattuck rose and challenged her, “Will the proposed bill eliminate discrimination?”

Elizabeth answered confidently, “Do your laws against larceny and murder prevent those crimes? No law will eliminate crimes, but at least you as legislators can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.”

— Elizabeth Peratrovich, 1957

In 1912, a year after Elizabeth was born, Native people from around Southeast Alaska met in Sitka to form the Alaska Native Brotherhood, or ANB, known as the oldest Indigenous civil rights organization in the world. Two years later, the Alaska Native Sisterhood, or ANS was formed.  Elizabeth would become grand president of the ANS and her husband, Roy Peratrovich Sr., grand president of the ANB. Both organizations proved essential to them in the battle for civil rights.

On February 16, 1945, then territorial governor, Ernest Greuening signed the nation’s first anti-discrimination bill into law. The governor said of Elizabeth, “Her intelligence was obvious, her composure faultless, and her plea could not have been more effective.”

Every February 16, Alaskans honor Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911–1958)  “…for her courageous, unceasing efforts to eliminate discrimination and bring about equal rights in Alaska.” (Alaska Statutes 44.12.065, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day).

Fighter in Velvet Gloves

The People Behind the Fighter in Velvet Gloves

By Annie Boochever with Roy Perotrovich Jr.

It was my niece, Hilary Lindh, who introduced me to Roy Peratrovich Jr., and that was the start of this book.

Hilary was working for the Alaska State Department of Transportation in 2014 when the old Brotherhood Bridge in Juneau was being replaced by a new one. Roy Jr., the first Alaska Native certified as a civil engineer in Alaska, worked on the design of the original bridge, which was named after the Alaska Native Brotherhood in honor of the organization’s fiftieth anniversary. Hilary had contacted him for help in moving a series of decorative bronze medallions he had also designed from the railing of the old bridge to the new one.

Roy provided a wealth of resources and personal stories. He even remembers delivering newspapers to my own family’s house. And he recalls seeing my dad, an attorney and later a judge, but more importantly a basketball enthusiast, like nearly everyone in Alaska, at the Gold Medal Basketball Tournaments in Juneau.

As a former librarian and teacher in Juneau, I had long wished for a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich that was accessible to younger readers. When Roy said he would help me document his mother’s legacy, I was thrilled.

About the Cover Illustration

Apayo Moor is a Yup’ik Eskimo from Aleknagik, Alaska. The artwork on the cover of this book is taken from her original poster, “We can do it,” which is on permanent display at the Anchorage Museum.

Annie’s nephew, Lael Tyler, a graphic designer in Portland, OR,  helped design the cover using Apayo’s art work. Krista West, the editor from the University of Alaska Press finalized it. 

Peratrovich Park

Peratrovich Park & Commemorative Coin

It just makes sense to visit the Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich park in Anchorage to kick off my book tour for Fighter in Velvet Gloves.

Alaskan Native elder reading Fighter in Velvet Gloves

Bethel elder, Mary Nunawak

Alaskan Native elder (Mary Nanuwak) reading Fighter in Velvet Gloves.

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“Fighter” Review from American Indian Studies in Children’s Literature

“When most people think of civil rights, their thoughts turn to the 1960s. They may remember photographs of Martin Luther King and others who spoke, marched, or participated in sit-ins. Some people, however, have a different memory of people fighting for civil rights. Their memories are of the 1940s when Native Alaskans fought for their rights.”

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49 Writer’s Interview with Katie Bausler

Listen to my interview with Katie Bausler at the 49 Writer’s event in Juneau, Alaska.

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Great Review from Anchorage Daily News

One of things this book does well is describe the semi-Apartheid conditions that were inflicted on Alaska Natives during the first half of the 20th century.

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Listen to an interview on Alaska News Nightly

Click the link to listen to the interview about Fighter in Velvet Gloves

Elizabeth Peratrovich

Fifty years ago today…

50 years ago one of Alaska’s greatest civil rights heroes passed away in a little known Christian Science care facility in Seattle. Just as she had prepared herself to fight for equality for Alaska Natives, Elizabeth had steeled herself for a different battle, but this one she could not win.

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74 years ago on February 5th

74 years ago on February 5, 1945, the Alaska Territorial legislative gallery in Juneau, Alaska, was so crowded the doors were flung open, and people, Native and non-Native alike, lined the hallway outside. Some stood on chairs to see better. Elizabeth Peratrovich sat in the back, knitting needles clicking while her youngest, little Lorie, fed her the yarn.

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Great Article about “Fighter” Featured in Juneau Empire

“It’s like it was meant to be.”

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Alaska Library Association Conference Feat. “Fighter” Saturday, March 2

Alaska Librarian Association Conference, 2019

Reviews of Fighter in Velvet Gloves

“We Tlingit people are sensitive about our stories, yet Annie Boochever has delicately managed this conundrum and, with Roy, has achieved a respectful and deeply honest telling of Elizabeth’s life. What I would have given to have had this inspiring book in my hands in my troubled youth.”

— Diane Benson, assistant professor at the Department of Alaska Native Studies

“Its the kind of book I wish my own children could have read when they were in grade school. Told in straigh-forward, readable prose, Fighter in Velvet Gloves is the biography of an Alaska Native woman who, despite adversity, never gave up as she struggled for equality.”

— Joseph Bruchac, Abenaki storyteller and author of Our Stories Remembered

Contact Annie

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Fighter in Velvet Gloves