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Blue_In_AK Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-18-09 12:22 PM
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Tlinigit civil rights pioneer celebrated in film.
My good friend Diane Benson will be appearing in a PBS special next month regarding the struggle for Native civil rights in Alaska. Here is the write-up about it from today's Anchorage Daily News. I have seen Diane perform her one-woman play about Elizabeth Peratrovich, and it is excellent.

Twenty-one years ago, Alaska created a new state holiday to celebrate civil rights, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

It was the first that many, including Jeffry Silverman, had ever heard of the Tlingit woman who, in 1945, spurred the Alaska Legislature to pass what historians cite as the first anti-discrimination law in America.

"I knew right away it would have to be a film," said Silverman, an Alaska filmmaker who grew up in Pennsylvania. "It's my kind of story. Justice. Speaking truth to power. A story for the whole world."

On Thursday, "For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska," co-written and produced by Silverman, will be screened during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage. Public television stations in the Lower 48 will show it next month.


The cast came from Cyrano's Playhouse in Anchorage and Perseverance Theatre in Juneau. One irony of the film is that Native actors play white roles like a poll worker who keeps a Native elder from voting and a segregationist territorial politician.

The part of Peratrovich is played by Diane Benson, a Tlingit actress with big screen experience. Silverman's original short feature was based on Benson's 2002 one-woman play about Peratrovich, "When My Spirit Raised Its Hands." She's credited as a consultant and writer on "Ending Jim Crow."

"I started with Diane, because she had researched extensively," Silverman said.

Her re-enactment of Peratrovich's 1945 "Bill of Rights" speech to the Territorial Senate, which shamed the politicians into passing Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Law, is a dramatic high point.

The re-created scenes alternate with interviews of eyewitnesses, like Walter Soboleff, and historians like Rosita Worl and Terrence Cole.

The "Jim Crow" label comes from a Cole essay, Silverman said. But it's not synonymous with the segregation statutes found in Lower 48 states following the Civil War. Racism in Alaska stemmed from custom, not law. But it was real, nonetheless.

"We had our own brand of Jim Crow," Silverman said.


Check your local listings. This should be quite interesting, and it has been a labor of love for Diane.
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