Last updated: October 26, 2021
Alberta Schenck is most notably remembered for her role in the advancement of native rights during a time when segregation against indigenous people ran rampant in her hometown of Nome, Alaska. Her advocacy for equality for indigenous peoples played a role in the passing of the Alaska Equal Rights Act of 1945.
In WWII-era Nome, at about the time when Alberta was a teenager, it was common practice to see signs reading “No Dogs or Natives Allowed” outside business extablishments. These Jim Crow-like practices left many non-white families disenfranchised from businesses and other crucial facilities.
Alberta, at the age of 16, expressed her discontent of the Dream Theater’s policy of segregated seating. Given that this was her place of employment at the time, she was promptly fired from the theater. She wrote an opinion piece in The Nome Nugget newspaper speaking out about the incident,
“What has hurt us constantly is that we are not able to go to a public theater and sit where we wish, but yet we pay the SAME price as anyone else and our money is GLADLY received. We are not allowed even to go to public doings, only when money is concerned for the benefit of the so-called society people of our city. These human beings who think they are in a higher standard than others admit they are citizens of America, but the majority are not loyal to what is written in the Constitution.”
After writing the piece, she later returned to the Dream Theater with a white date and sat in the “whites only" section. Schenck and her date refused to move, and she was consequently arrested and placed in jail for the night. This incident rallied support from the local Inupiat community who staged a protest until her release the next day.
However, her work was not finished. Schenck wrote to Alaska Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening to garner support against Alaska's discriminatory practices. Governor Gruening then re-introduced the anti-discrimination bill after it was defeated in 1943. Her story was told on the legislator floor during the debate. Schenck’s testimony, along with many others, including Elizabeth Peratrovitch's famous speech, led to the bill's passing. The bill was signed on February 16, 1945.