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50th Anniversary Statehood Commission

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Click here to read Road to Statehood, by retired Judge and Commission member Jim Burns.

June 14, 1900- Congress passes the Hawai‘i Organic Act which creates the governing legislation of the Territory of Hawai‘i. The act grants citizenship to all citizens of the Republic. A distinct territorial judiciary is set up. The territorial governor and territorial secretary (akin to a lieutenant governor) are to be appointed by the president.

1903- The Territorial Legislature of Hawai‘i passes a resolution calling on territorial delegate Prince Kuhio Kalaniana`ole to request that the U.S. Congress consider “an Act enabling the people of this Territory . . . [to] adopt a State Constitution” so as to be “admitted as a State into the Union.”

February 11, 1919- Prince Kuhio introduces the first Hawaiian statehood bill to Congress. The bill is referred to a committee for further study. In subsequent years, this bill is followed by numerous other bills calling for Hawai‘i Statehood. Prior to 1959, none of these bills gained congressional approval.

July 9, 1921- U.S. Congress approves the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act sponsored by Prince Kuhio. The act sets aside almost 200,000 acres of former Crown lands in trust for people of at least 50% Native Hawaiian blood.

May 9, 1934- In a move to protect mainland sugar interests, Congress approves the Jones-Costigan Act. This act lowers the amount of sugar that foreign countries and territories, including Hawai‘i, can export to the American continent tariff-free. This convinces local plantation owners who suffer a resulting economic pinch to campaign for Statehood.

September 27, 1935- Hawai‘i’s legislature authorizes and funds the Hawai‘i Equal Rights Commission. Its ex-officio chairman, Territorial Governor Joseph Poindexter, appoints the Commission’s four other members. The Commission’s purpose is to fight political discrimination against Hawai‘i. It would later be renamed “The Statehood Commission.”

November 22, 1935- Pan American Airways makes its inaugural regular service flight to Hawai‘i with a China Clipper. The emergence of commercial air travel brings Hawai‘i closer to the U.S. Instead of a 5-day journey by sea, travelers can now take a 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

September 1937- Dr. Ernest H. Gruening, who was appointed Director of the Division of Territories and Insular Possessions of the U.S. Department of the Interior by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, visits Hawai‘i. He stays for over two months to familiarize himself with the territory and increase his ability to better advocate for its rights. Dr. Gruening would later become Governor of the Alaska Territory (1939 – 1953) and the first U.S. Senator from Alaska (1959 – 1969).

October 6 – 22, 1937- A joint congressional committee of 7 senators and 12 representatives hold 17 days of hearings in Hawai‘i and conclude that Hawai‘i fulfills every requirement for Statehood. A Statehood plebiscite, a vote from the people of Hawai‘i, is recommended.

May 7, 1940- The U.S. Pacific Fleet moves its headquarters from San Pedro, California to Pearl Harbor. This, in addition to the military fortifications already in place—Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, and Hickam Airfield—make Hawai‘i an ever more important military outpost for the United States.

November 5, 1940- The Statehood plebiscite required by Congress results in a 2 to 1 vote in favor of Statehood- 46,174 votes to 22,426.

December 7, 1941- The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. The outbreak of World War II interrupts the drive for Statehood as suspicions over those of Japanese ancestry are raised and the “American-ness” of the Territory of Hawai‘i is questioned. Hawai‘i is placed under martial law until 1944.

June 12, 1942 – Soldiers of the 298th and 299th infantry regiments of the Hawai‘i National Guard, most of whom are Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) are activated and head to Wisconsin and Mississippi for training, becoming the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate).

November 3, 1942- Joseph Farrington, affectionately known as “Statehood Joe,” is elected as Hawai‘i’s delegate to Congress.

February 1, 1943 – About 800 volunteers from mainland relocation camps and more than 2,600 volunteers from Hawai‘i, all of whom are Nisei, are activated for service as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 100th Battalion and the 442nd are both sent to Italy to fight alongside each other.

December 17, 1943 – The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (Magnuson Act) is signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowing Chinese immigrants already residing in the U.S., including Hawai‘i, to become naturalized citizens. This Act also permits Chinese immigration to the U.S. under a quota system and allows immigrants to travel freely between Hawai‘i and the U.S. continent.

August 10, 1944 – The 100th Infantry Battalion formally becomes part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team for the final nine months of the war in Europe. Substantial numbers are serious injured or killed in combat, making the 442nd one of World War II’s most decorated military units.

August 15, 1945- World War II ends.

December 22, 1945- Interior Secretary Harold Ickes endorses Hawai‘i Statehood as the official position of the Department of the Interior.

December 14, 1946- Hawai‘i is placed on the United Nations list of “Non-self-Governing Territories” under article 73 of the UN charter which promotes decolonization. This creates an unexpected impediment to statehood.

January 7-17, 1946- The U.S. House Committee on Territories, headed by Louisiana representative Henry Larcade, holds hearings on statehood for Hawai‘i—the first since 1937.

January 17, 1946- On the last day of the Larcade hearings, territorial senator Alice Kamokila Campbell, daughter of wealthy sugar planter James Campbell and a descendant of Hawaiian royalty, voices her opinion against statehood: “I do not feel…we should forfeit the traditional rights and privileges of the natives of our islands for a mere thimble full of votes in Congress, that we, the lovers of Hawai‘i from long association with it should sacrifice our birthright for the greed of alien desires to remain on our shores, that we should satisfy the thirst for power and control of some inflated industrialists and politicians who hide under the guise of friends of Hawai‘i, yet still keeping an eagle eye on the financial and political pressure button of subjugation over the people in general of these islands.” Her voice was one of the few dissident ones, as the Larcade committee’s general sentiment was in full support of Hawaiian Statehood. Still, consideration was deferred until the next legislative session.

1947- The Hawai‘i Statehood Commission, successor to the Equal Rights Commission, opens a Washington D.C. office.

1947- Further Hawai‘i Statehood hearings are held in Washington D.C. In June, the bill is brought to the House floor and passes 196 to 133.

January 7, 1948- President Harry S. Truman calls for Hawai‘i Statehood in his state of the union message. A third Congressional Statehood investigation is held in Hawai‘i for 12 days. The unanimous recommendation is immediate statehood.

October 1948- Senator Hugh Butler of Nebraska, one of the leading anti-communists in the senate and overseer of the 1947 senate bill on Hawai‘i Statehood, comes to Hawai‘i to assess a perceived communist threat. He charges that the ILWU and Democratic Party of Hawai‘i are infiltrated with treasonous communists. In June 1949 he releases his report: Communist Penetration of the Hawaiian Islands.

December 31, 1948- The 80th Congress adjourns without any Senate floor vote on the Hawai‘i Statehood bill passed by the House in 1947.

May 20, 1949- In an attempt to expedite statehood, the Territorial Legislature approves the convening of a Constitutional Convention to frame a state constitution as other territories that became states had done successfully in the past. It is hoped that the creation of a constitution will demonstrate Hawai‘i’s preparedness for democracy.

June 14, 1949- The Hawai‘i Residents’ Association, a conservative, mostly haole, anti-communism organization is formed. Though never explicitly in opposition to statehood, the group’s actions make it clear they prefer the status quo.

November 7, 1950- The Hawai‘i State Constitution is approved by the people with a vote of 82,788 to 27,109.

1952 – The Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act) becomes law when Congress overrides a veto of the measure by President Harry Truman. This Act ends the exclusion of Asian nationals wanting to emigrate to the U.S. and permits Asian immigrants residing in the U.S., including the Issei (Japanese immigrants), to become naturalized citizens.

1952- At the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Ernest W. McFarland (D-Arizona), a combined Hawai‘i-Alaska Statehood bill is sent to the Senate floor against the wishes of the Delegates of both Territories, who felt both had more chance of success if Hawai‘i went first. The bill is sent back to committee on a 45-44 vote, ending action in the 82nd Congress. Although both national party platforms endorse immediate Statehood, only the Democrats endorse immediate statehood for Alaska.

1953- In the 83rd Congress, the House of Representatives pass the Hawai‘i Statehood bill, 274 to 138, for the third time; however, the Senate postpones action to 1954.

1954- The Senate votes 46 to 43 to join the Hawai‘i and Alaska bills into one measure. They then pass the combined bill 57 to 28. Representative Joseph Martin, the U.S. House Speaker at the time, favors statehood for Hawai‘i alone and refuses to consider the joint bill.

February 24, 1954- A 250 lb. petition containing 120,000 signatures in favor of Hawai‘i Statehood is ceremoniously sent to the U.S. Congress from Hawai‘i.

November 1954- For the first time in Hawai‘i’s history, largely due to the support of Hawai‘i’s WWII veterans and the labor unions, especially the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), the Democratic Party gains control of the territorial legislature.

November 6, 1956- John A. Burns is elected Hawai‘i’s Delegate to Congress as a Democrat.

1957 / 1958 - Delegate Burns agrees to a strategy supported by both the Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D – Texas) and House Speaker Samuel T. Rayburn (D – Texas) to admit Alaska in the 85th Congress and hold back Hawai‘i. This strategy is designed to force the issue with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican from Texas who is firm for Hawai‘i Statehood but equivocal about Alaska. The Alaska bill passes the House 208 to 166 and the Senate 64 to 20. Eisenhower signs the bill. Burns fulfills his commitment and refuses to press for the Hawai‘i bill in the dying days of Congress, even though this poses a serious re-election problem for him at home.

January 3, 1959- Alaska becomes the 49th State. The 86th Senate moves expeditiously to consider Hawai‘i for Statehood.. With the admission of the 49th state, both political parties are willing to admit a 50th state so as to maintain continual political balance in Washington, DC (with Alaska being predominantly Democratic and Hawai‘i more Republican at the time).

March 11, 1959- The Senate passes Hawai‘i’s Statehood Bill 75 to 15.

March 12, 1959- The U.S. House of Representatives passes Hawai‘i’s Statehood Bill, 323 to 89.

March 18, 1959- The Act to Provide for the Admission of the State of Hawai‘i is signed by President Eisenhower. Hawai‘i’s delegate, John Burns, is not invited to the signing ceremony.

June 27, 1959- A plebiscite is held to allow Hawai‘i residents to ratify the congressional vote for statehood. Out of 155,000 registered voters throughout the territory, 140,744 ballots are cast. The “yes for statehood” garners 94.3% (132,773 votes) while the “no” ballots equal 5.7% (7,971 votes).

August 21, 1959- President Eisenhower makes Hawai‘i Statehood official by signing the proclamation that welcomes Hawai‘i as the 50th state of the union. He also unveils the new fifty star flag.

July 4, 1960- A new fifty star flag is flown for the first time throughout the country.

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