Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, March 11, 1999

Campaigners for
Hawaii’s statehood

First of Three Articles


TOMORROW will be 40 years since I wrote the opening paragraph to run under a red, six-inch Star-Bulletin headline: "STATEHOOD!"

Far from being an example of dispassionate journalism, it said: "Congress ended decades of procrastination today and sent to the White House a bill to give Hawaii the Statehood it has so long deserved." The House of Representatives had just overwhelmingly approved statehood, 323-89. The previous day the Senate passed an identical bill, 76-15.

It seemed so easy. It had been so hard. In Queen's Hospital, the news brightened a patient in surgery, Samuel Wilder King, 75, a fighter for statehood since 1934. King lived until a week after President Eisenhower signed the bill on March 18.

No such luck for King's original partner in the battle, Joseph R. Farrington, publisher of this newspaper. He had died five years earlier. The two were successive delegates to Congress from Hawaii from 1935 until Farrington's collapse of a heart attack at his Washington desk in 1954.

Both statehood leaders fought entrenched opposition at home and in Congress and misunderstandings by the American public to clear the path for victory.

In 1934, King, aged 47 and part-Hawaiian, and Farrington, 37, ran as a team. King would energize the statehood fight in Washington as delegate to Congress. Farrington would seek to advance it at home from a seat in the territorial Senate. Both won.

Their immediate impetus was the threat of carpetbag rule for Hawaii raised in Washington after the sensationalized Massie rape and murder cases. These involved a Navy family and alleged local assailants.

Another impetus was a new, discriminatory tariff against Hawaii's sugar in the U.S. market. King was on the Honolulu Board of Supervisors at the time. Farrington had taken the helm of the Star-Bulletin, succeeding his father, who died in 1933.

Statehood was a no-brainer for Hawaii's Asian residents, who knew it would at last bring them full political equality. But there was resistance from a portion of the ruling Caucasian establishment that was faring pretty well with political spoils under territorial status. It feared Japanese community political power in particular. This resistance included some Hawaiians. There also were fears about Japanese loyalty in case of war with Japan.

In Washington, King got Congress to take the question seriously enough to send first-ever committees here to investigate and recommend. Five House members in 1935 recommended "considerable further study" after 12 days of hearings amid fetes with leis and luaus.

In 1937 seven senators and 12 representatives reported after 17 days here: "Hawaii has fulfilled every requirement for Statehood heretofore exacted for territories." They recommended delay, however, due to international conditions, and requested a plebiscite to determine local sentiment. The vote in 1940 was 46,174 in favor, 22,426 opposed.

HAWAII was placed under martial law after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. King, a 1910 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, won renomination for delegate in 1942 but then withdrew to return to naval service for the duration. The Republican Party chose Farrington to replace him on the general election ballot.

King returned to civilian life after the war, headed the Hawaii Statehood Commission and was president of the 1950 convention to write a state constitution.

In 1953 Farrington helped maneuver through tricky Washington political terrain to get newly inaugurated President Eisenhower to appoint King as territorial governor for four years. Ike first had committed to someone else.

TUESDAY: Delegates Joseph and Betty Farrington.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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