“A phone call from Governor Quinn in Washington today is expected to set off the biggest wingding in Island history to celebrate Statehood Day. The Governor will ring Hawaii the minute the House passes the Statehood Bill. Since the Bill has already passed in the Senate, this will mean that Hawaii is in…Every church bell in town will begin pealing. Every ship in the harbor will blow her whistle. Most folks will do a little shouting of their own, and, of course, there’s nothing to stop you from hula-ing in the streets if you want to.”—The Honolulu Advertiser, March 12, 1959
Thousands of Islands did, indeed, do a little “hula-ing” on that historic day 45 years ago.
Dixieland bands took to the streets of Waikiki and played music. Teenagers jitterbugged and waved banners at Iolani Palace. Shops closed and car horns sounded. Outside a schoolyard in Honolulu, thousands of children paraded about, waving signs and stopping only momentarily to dutifully recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
And outside the suddenly obsolete Statehood Commission Office, someone gleefully hung a hastily scrawled sign. The sign read “Out of Business.”
The 50th State
The celebration was all because of this: At approximately 10:04 in the morning (Hawaii Standard Time), the U.S. House of Representatives voted 323 to 89 in favor of granting statehood to Hawaii. As the Honolulu Star-Bulletin pointedly observed, “Congress ended decades of procrastination today and sent to the White House a bill to give the Statehood it has so long deserved.”
Five months later, on August 21, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made it official, signing the proclamation that welcomed Hawaii as the 50th state of the union. Hawaii had been annexed to the United States in 1898 and became a territory two years later.
Local historians say that it wasn’t until Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 that people on the U.S. mainland fully recognized the importance of Hawaii to the rest of the country. Having served faithfully and with patriotic zeal in World War II, Hawaiians assumed statehood was forthcoming. In fact, there are several collectibles (including buttons, record labels and license plates) that proudly proclaim Hawaii as “The 49th State.” (That turned out to be premature, as Alaska got the nod in 1958.)
But as Hawaiians discovered, it’s still nifty to be fifty. Hawaii songwriter Harry Owens even penned a tune for the occasion:
“Hawaii is the fiftieth star in the U.S.A.
Aloha means how joyful we are
For at last we are brothers today
We know that you’ll be happy
When Hawaii falls inline
We sing a song of gladness as we
Join the forty-nine.”
Today, each third Friday in August is a state holiday: Statehood Day.