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Hawaii celebrates 50th anniversary of statehood, sort of

Hawaii_statehood_50_anniversary_rememberedThere was also concern about Hawaii’s large concentration of Japanese residents—43 percent of the territory’s population was of Japanese descent. Many questioned the territory’s allegiance. Future governor Oren Long disputed these doubts in front of a joint congressional committee session in 1937, saying Hawaii’s Japanese-Americans were loyal to the U.S.

The 1937 congressional committee took note of Long’s words. More importantly, they declared the territory fit the criteria for statehood. However, there was one caveat: The people of Hawaii must vote on the subject, a first for the territory. The plebiscite on statehood was held in 1940. The results: 46,174 in favor of statehood, 22,428 against.

The statehood campaign stalled after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II. The Pearl Harbor offensive reignited the issue of Japanese-American allegiance. Meanwhile, martial law had been declared in Hawaii, and the territorial government was dissolved. Statehood seemed a lost cause.

The statehood movement slowly restarted following World War II. The heroic record of the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment during the war made it the most decorated American combat unit and helped to ease the nation’s collective doubts about the loyalty of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans.

Hawaii_statehood_50_anniversary_rememberedPresident Harry Truman endorsed statehood for Hawaii in his 1946 State of the Union address, making him the first U.S. president to publicly address the topic. The U.S. House Committee on Territories recommended legislation for statehood for the first time.

In Hawaii, support for statehood was strong. The 1950 Hawaii Constitutional Convention approved a state constitution that would take effect upon achieving statehood—a maneuver done by other territories that had successfully lobbied for statehood.

In February 1954, 116,000 people convened on Bishop Street in Honolulu (photo, top) to sign a 500-foot-long petition that extended along the downtown thoroughfare. The petition was wrapped and taken to the steps of Iolani Palace for a ceremonial sendoff to Washington. Written at the top of the petition: “We the Citizens of Hawaii, U.S.A., petition for statehood now.”

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