Alberta Schenck Adams
|Alberta Schenck Adams|
June 1, 1928
|Died||July 6, 2009
|Resting place||Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Known for||Challenging Alaska's segregation practices|
|Children||MaryJill, Yvonne Rose|
Alberta Daisy Schenck Adams (June 1, 1928 – July 6, 2009) was a teenage civil rights activist in the struggle for equality by the indigenous peoples in the United States Territory of Alaska. As of the 1867 Alaska Purchase, the territorial residents were all citizens of the United States. Her 1944 challenge to segregation practices was cited during the Territorial Legislature's proceedings in passage of Alaska's 1945 anti-discrimination law. It was part of the Civil Rights Movement. A decade later in 1955, Rosa Parks in Alabama sparked a public bus boycott by refusing to give up her seat to a white person. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregation in public schools.
Early life and segregated Alaska
Alberta Schenck was born in Nome, Alaska on June 1, 1928, to Albert Schenck, a white Army veteran of World War I. Her mother was Mary Pushruk Schenck of native Inupiat heritage. She was born into an era when the indigenous peoples of Alaska were subjected to segregated practices that often left non-white children without an education for lack of facilities. Some segregated business establishments advertised that all their employees were white.
Alaska Dream Theatre incident
When Alberta was a high school girl in 1944, she had a part-time job ushering at the Alaska Dream Theatre in Nome, where part of her job was to make sure non-white patrons sat in their designated segregated area. She eventually registered a complaint with the theatre's manager and was fired. Alberta's response became an opinion article on March 3, 1944 in The Nome Nugget newspaper. She returned later with a white date, and the two of them sat in the "Whites Only" section. She and her Army sergeant date refused to move when the manager demanded she move to the non-white section. The theater manager contacted the local police who arrested Schenck and placed her in jail for one night. Schenck’s arrest rallied the local Inupiat community who staged a protest at the theater until her release from jail the next day.
Indignant and determined not to be deterred, she wrote a letter to Alaska Governor Ernest Gruening and related the incident to him. The prior year, the Governor had seen his anti-discrimination bill be defeated in the Territorial Legislature. Her letter inspired the Governor to have the bill re-introduced in the Territorial Legislature, during which her experience was cited on the floor of the legislature. He answered her letter vowing that no one would again receive that kind of treatment in Alaska. The re-introduced bill, Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law on February 16, 1945.
Death and legacy
Alberta Schenck married a man named Adams and moved to California. She died on July 6, 2009 in Anaheim of congestive heart failure.
Alaskans had been citizens of the United States since the 1867 Alaska Purchase. The role Alberta Schenck played in passage of Alaska's 1945 anti-discrimination legislation was part of the Civil Rights Movement. Landmark events in that struggle would come to include the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregated schools, and Rosa Parks's 1955 refusing to give up her public bus seat to a white person, an act that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama.
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