MAY 7, 1885


Born in Tongass Village, Alaska, he and brother Louis founded, in 1912, the Alaska Native Brotherhood which pressed for Native voting rights and land claims. The first Alaska Native to become an attorney, one of his trials was key for Native voting rights. Cannery owners, whose traps threatened the livings of Native fisherman, opposed Indian voting. In 1922, Tlingit elder Charlie Jones, who spoke little English, went to vote, though the law allowed only literate, “civilized” Natives to vote. He was turned away.  Paul’s mother, Tillie, demanded that Jones be able to vote. He did vote and was later arrested.  As defense counsel, Paul proved Charlie to be civilized by what he joked was the “Toilet Paper” defense—Charlie owned a home and paid taxes. In 1924, with Native votes, Paul was elected to the Territorial Legislature. In the 1950s, his Tlingit land claims test case formed the basis for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Paul died in Seattle, Washington, on March 4, 1977.

Source:  Frank Hopper, “The Toilet Paper Defense: The Story of William Paul and Charlie Jones,” Indian Country Today, 5/7/2014.  Retrieved 6/10/2019,
Photo:  Whitworth College, 1909.  Public Domain. 

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