Hawaiian Statehood, 1959

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It was a long and arduous journey.

Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893 by American businessmen, there were several attempts to incorporate the archipelago into the United States. For a time, it was considered a republic until it became a U.S. territory in 1898.

Sanford Dole, a member of the powerful pineapple company and the island’s first (and only) president during its brief time as a republic, proposed Hawaiian statehood to Congress for the first time in 1903. Dole’s efforts were later picked up by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole – and five bills for statehood were introduced between 1919 and 1950.

The bills faced numerous delays, stemming from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese internment, and the Southern Democrats. The last group was particularly worried that Hawaii statehood would lead to the addition of two pro-civil-rights senators from a state, which would be the first with a majority non-white population. However, these obstacles were eventually overcome, with Alaska and Hawaii both admitted as states to preserve the balance of power in the Senate. On March 12, 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act, and President Eisenhower signed it into law five days later. Almost 95 percent of Hawaii residents voted to accept the statehood bill that June, and Hawaii became the 50th state two months later.

Hawaii and Alaska were the first states to be added to the United States since 1912, when Arizona and New Mexico became part of the country.

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The moment of this historic occasion was captured in an iconic photo, taken shortly after the Hawaii Admission Act was passed. The photo featured a young boy named Chester Kahapea, who was just two days shy of his thirteenth birthday and working as a paperboy in Honolulu. Kahapea recalled that he was pleased with how well the newspapers were selling that day, and he couldn’t cut the bundles open fast enough.

He was sent by his employers at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to deliver a special edition to the mayor of Honolulu, who was late for the photo op. As he waited, a press photographer, Murray Befeler, began talking to Kahapea. Befeler asked Kahapea him how normally sold his papers and asked him to pose accordingly. The photo above was widely distributed in newspapers across the country and around the world, earning Kahapea the nickname “the face of Hawaii statehood.”

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The photo also inspired another photographer, George Bacon, who was a friend of Befeler. Determined not to be outdone, Bacon headed home to take a photo of his own. “My father saw it as a challenge,” recalled Dodie Bacon Browne, then six-year old. “He called home and told my mother to put me in a muumuu. He came home with a copy of the newspaper, took my picture and rushed back to work.” The image of Dodie was also picked up by the Associated Press and widely reprinted.

On the covers of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin was the fifty-star flag — designed just a year earlier by a junior at a highschool in Lancaster, Ohio.

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