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Perspectives on Hawai‘i’s Statehood

Crowds of people in front of an ornate stone building

Statehood celebration at ‘Iolani Palace, 1959. (Photo by George Bacon.)

Political leaders, aides, observers, and scholars of Hawai‘i’s statehood movement were interviewed for a thirty-minute video documentary co-produced by COH and Hawai‘i Public Television. The interviews were later transcribed and published.

While not a comprehensive history of the statehood movement, Perspectives on Hawai‘i’s Statehood gathers the recalled experiences or observations of nine individuals whose perspectives on statehood are as varied as their backgrounds.

“You have to be careful not to overlook the fact that the basis for statehood and the agitation for it had been going on since the twenties at least, and many, many people contributed a great deal towards creating the idea in people’s minds that statehood was possible for Hawai‘i. And even though I don’t claim to be any great fan of the Republican predecessors, I think (delegate to Congress) Joe Farrington certainly contributed and I think his wife did, too, when she served.” —Thomas P. Gill

“During the statehood celebrations, they put so much emphasis on other people saying, well, because of the groundwork that (territorial Governor Samuel W.) King . . . and Farringtons and what have you, have put it, that (delegate to Congress John) Burns merely put the cap on. But if they really studied the situation, Burns’s tactics were completely opposite of what they were doing. This is why he was successful.” —Daniel Aoki

All nine do agree that Hawai‘i’s drive toward statehood — involving decades of debate among local and national leaders — was closely tied to the socio-political issues of post-World War II America. The final decision to admit Hawai‘i as the nation’s fiftieth state rested partly on how Congress dealt with and resolved the issues of civil rights, Communism, and party politics — issues that inevitably arose in view of the Islands’ largely non-white, multi-ethnic population, growing union influence, and overturn of Republican hegemony in 1954.

“The issue of Communism was a smoke screen. . . . They had to figure out a way of getting rid of the ILWU (International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union). So they raised the issue of Communism. Of course, the anti-statehood people, most of them were anti-statehood because of the Oriental population, jumped onto the anti-Communist issue, too.” —Robert McElrath

“Hawai‘i was generally equated, even as late as the time we got statehood, as a Republican territory, even though we had gone heavily Democratic starting in 1954. It was generally felt that Alaska was Democratic and so therefore if the two should be brought in together, they would balance one another off.” —Daniel Tuttle

These issues, discussed at length by the interviewees, place Hawai‘i’s statehood drive within the broader context of twentieth century U.S. history while informing us of local politics and social change.

 

Link to audioDaniel Tuttle talks about who, in his estimation, was responsible for Hawai‘i’s statehood (.au sound file, 231K).

Interviewees

Interviewers

 

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