Willard L. Bowman Speeches Digitized

HOT OFF THE PRESS… or in this case, the scanner!

Willard L. Bowman (1919-1975) served as Director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights from its inception in 1963-1970, when he ran, and won, a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives.  Bowman was a widely recognized human and civil rights leader and one of Alaska’s first African American legislators.  His influential words are now available to read online at Alaska’s Digital Archives.

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To view Willard L. Bowman’s speeches visit Alaska’s Digital Archives at:  http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/collection/cdmg41/searchterm/bowman/order/nosort

The following excerpt is from one of Willard Bowman’s speeches as Director of the State Commission for Human Rights given in December of 1964, just shy of a year and half after the Commission was created by the 1963 Legislature.

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“Let’s now turn to the question of the human rights picture in Alaska.  As I said before, our agency has been in existence barely 18 months, yet this has been long enough for us to have gathered enough data and statistics to be able to make one statement of fact.  In no city of any size in Alaska, have we found where equal opportunities exist in employment or housing for the Alaska Native, the Negro, and to a lesser degree, other highly visible minorities.

This comes as no shock to the minorities involved, for being the victims they are for the most part well aware of the block put in their road; nor should it be a shock to those of you who work in the field.  For those who make up that mass of faceless humanity called the General Public, it evidently does come as a shock.

In the past year our office has accepted many invitations to speak to civic, religious, and labor groups, and without fail after each talk one of the first questions asked is “But really there isn’t much discrimination in Alaska is there?”

We have heard many proposed reasons for this in equal job opportunities or in equal housing opportunities, they run the gamut from “cultural disadvantages” on the one hand, down to the earthy “drunkenness” on the other extreme, but I say most of it is plan garden type discrimination.

Do you want proof?  Let’s belabor the point by my indicating specific reasons why I can make this statement.  What city do you wish to start with?  Since we are meeting in Juneau, let me tell what I know about it, while I hope none of you are on the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Here we have a city which is not only the capitol of Alaska, but is boasting of it’s being the third largest, with a population according to the 1960 census of almost 10,000 people in the greater Juneau area.  Naturally this has increased in four years.

But what of the minorities?  Where do they live?  Where do they work?  How do they live?  The racial climate of any city can be seen, you don’t have to ask.

Walk the streets of Juneau, and observe as I have.  You will find that except for isolated instances the Native, though ranking high in percent of total population, is not represented in the work force of this city, bit it in service, professional, or construction.  Shall we go into housing, or is the less said about that the better?  As for Negros, they are not strong enough in number to constitute an argument one way or the other, yet they too suffer.”

You can read this speech in full on Alaska’s Digital Archives at: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg41/id/1098/rec/1

For other speeches by Bowman, visit the Alaska Digital Archives at: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/search/collection/cdmg41/searchterm/bowman/order/nosort

 

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Elizabeth Peratrovich Day: February 16

In 1988 the Alaska State Legislature established February 16 as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in honor of a woman whose tireless work on civil rights issues for Alaska Natives led to the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

House Bill 14, Chapter 2, an Act, known as the Anti-Discrimination Act, was approved on February 16, 1945 as part of the Seventeenth Regular Session, Territorial Legislature of Alaska. The Anti-Discrimination Act is considered a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation in Alaska. This document comes from the Sessions Laws of Alaska, 1945, pages 35-36 and can be viewed at http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/ref/collection/cdmg41/id/543.

Elizabeth and her husband, Roy Peratrovich, both served as Grand Presidents of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) and Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and were leaders in addressing civil and human rights for Alaska Natives.  The Alaska State Archives has digitized and made available online materials documenting their efforts in the form of 65 pages of correspondence and documents from Governor Ernest Gruening’s papers between 1943 and 1946, the period when Elizabeth and Roy were serving the ANS and ANB.

Included in these papers is the 19-page legal opinion by the Attorney General about segregated schooling in Alaska in response to Roy Peratrovich’s letter requesting a legal explanation of segregated schooling.

Letter from the Attorney General, 1943.
The 1943 legal opinion of the Attorney General of Alaska, Henry Roden, regarding segregation of schooling, page 1 of 19.

 

To read the full opinion and other papers and correspondence concerning Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich from Governor Ernest Gruening’s papers visit Alaska’s Digital Archives at http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/ref/collection/cdmg41/id/973.

Happy Elizabeth Peratrovich Day!