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Hawaii celebrates 50th anniversary of statehood, sort of

Hawaii_statehood_50_anniversary_rememberedDespite these efforts, Hawaii would still have to wait. Alaska became the nation’s 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959—the result of political jostling between President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, who pushed for Hawaii’s statehood, and the Democratic majority of Congress, which supported Alaska. At the time, Hawaii was perceived as a Republican stronghold—ironically, since Republican hegemony would not long survive statehood. Nor would Alaska stay Democratic.

After several attempts at passing a Hawaii statehood act failed, Hawaii Congressional Delegate John Burns agreed to let Alaska be admitted first.

Months after Alaska's admittance into the Union, President Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act into law on  March 18, 1959. Statehood now rested in the hands of Hawaii’s people. Residents voted in record numbers (ballot photo, top), approving the statehood bill by a ratio of 17 to 1. 

The people of Hawaii rejoiced en masse. Hawaii politicians created a two-day holiday to celebrate statehood. Local newspapers ran huge, 300-page editions commemorating the event.

Hawaii_statehood_50_anniversary_rememberedFinally on August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower signed a proclamation welcoming Hawaii into the union (photo, bottom). Hawaii was officially America’s 50th state.

A few young Hawaii citizens became the media faces of the young state. One of these people was 6-year-old Dodie Bacon Browne, whose infectious smile has become an enduring image of Hawai‘i’s statehood (photo, pg. 1). Browne’s father, photographer George Bacon, took the picture after friend and fellow photographer Murray Befeler captured the famous shot of 13-year-old paperboy Chester Kahapea selling commemorative copies of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Bacon refused to be outdone by his colleague. “My father saw it as a challenge,” recalls Browne. “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.” Bacon put his daughter’s image on the Associated Press wire where it was picked up by newspapers and media outlets across the country.

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