HONOLULU (AP) - The state that gave America its first black president was hailed as a model of tolerance and diversity on the 50th anniversary of a bill signing that led to Hawaii becoming the 50th state.
The pen President Dwight D. Eisenhower used a half-century ago was on display at the state Capitol on Wednesday as past and present state leaders sang Hawaiian music, held hands and reflected on the meaning of joining the United States.
But as an Army band played patriotic songs, about two dozen Native Hawaiians chanted and marched in protest of statehood near the statue of Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, wearing shirts that spelled out “A history of theft” and “Fake state.”
Speeches commemorating the 50th anniversary emphasized the islands’ ethnic diversity and its right to have a voice in the United States through the overwhelming 93 percent vote for statehood.
Soldiers who were born of Japanese parents but fought for the United States in World War II showed Hawaii’s commitment to the nation before it even became a state, said Gov. Linda Lingle.
“These soldiers showed that being loyal to the American cause was in no way defined by ethnicity. It was determined instead by a belief in the principles of freedom and democracy,” Lingle said. “Hawaii provided a model of tolerance ahead of its time.”
The Hawaii Admissions Act was signed by Eisenhower on March 18, 1959, clearing the way for a vote of Hawaii residents in June and the islands’ acceptance into the nation that Aug. 21.
Statehood was the culmination of a long series of events: the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the islands’ years as a remote U.S. territory and its importance in the Pacific following the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.
Hundreds of the state’s former governors, legislators, congressmen, judges, entertainers and their families packed the Capitol for Wednesday’s event. During the song “This is Aloha,” singer Danny Couch asked the audience to hold hands and sway to the music.
The Native Hawaiians outside weren’t so cheerful. Longtime protester Richard Pomai Kinney carried his Hawaii state flag upside-down as a sign of distress.
“Statehood is a fraud,” said Kinney, who was 19 years old at the time. “My parents said Hawaii would become a place only for the wealthy. Look at it today. There’s nothing to celebrate.”
Others with the Hawaiian Independence Action Alliance said they feared the islands’ native people will lose what’s left of their sovereignty if the U.S. Congress passes a pending measure that would give them a degree of self-government similar to American Indians.
They insist that Hawaii is still an independent nation because the Hawaiian Kingdom never agreed to be annexed.
“There was no treaty of annexation. Show me the treaty,” said group organizer Lynette Cruz. “There’s been an incorrect interpretation of history all these years.”
But House Speaker Calvin Say told the audience that Hawaii embraced core American ideals of overcoming adversity and accepting different cultures, as shown by the state’s election of the nation’s first Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian senators and its being the birthplace of President Barack Obama.
“History shows time and again that even if you were born in the poorest part of town, you can achieve,” Say said.
On the Net:
50th Anniversary of Statehood: https://hawaii.gov/statehood