The Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945 was a landmark piece of legislation in the history of the United States, as it was the first anti-discrimination law to be signed into law by a state or territory. The act prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, or national origin.
The law was signed on February 16, 1945, by the governor of Alaska, Ernest Gruening, and was a response to the discrimination against Alaska Natives. Rousing testimony by Alaska Native woman and leader Elizabeth Petratrovich is credited with being decisive in passing the bill. Territorial Allen Shattuck of Juneau had earlier stated vehemently, “Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?” Petratrovich responded,
“I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”
The Alaska Equal Rights Act reflected this changing attitude and was a response to the growing civil rights movement that was demanding equal treatment for all people, regardless of their race, religion, or national origin. The act was a significant step forward in the fight for civil rights and helped to set the stage for more comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that would be enacted in the years to come.
The Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945 was a historic moment in the history of the United States, as it marked the first time that a state or territorial government had taken a stand against discrimination and had enshrined the principles of equality and justice into law. It remains an important symbol of the progress that has been made in the fight for civil rights and continues to inspire people to work towards a more just and equitable society.