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Statehood Day

Statehood Day 2017 and 2018

Also known as Admission Day, Statehood Day in the state of Hawai’i is a legal American holiday. The holiday falls on the third Friday of every August. It commemorates Hawai’i’s admission to the Union in 1959. Hawai’i’s statehood was celebrated for the first time in 1969.

YearDateDayHolidayState
201718 AugFriStatehood DayHI
201817 AugFriStatehood DayHI

A Brief History of Hawai’i

The islands of Hawai’i were first populated by Polynesian settlers. Around 1200, Tahitian settlers also arrived on the islands. It would be another 500 years before the arrival of the British to this part of the world. James Cook led an expedition to the islands in 1778.

Within five years of the contact, Kamehameha I managed to conquer most of the people on the islands and unified them for the first time. This established the Kingdom of Hawai’i. American immigration to the Kingdom began shortly after European contact as the islands were prosperous and full of agriculture.

Protestant missionaries were among the first groups to immigrate after European contact. Americans who began living on the island began labor-intensive sugar farms. More waves of Japanese, Chinese, and Philippine immigrants arrived to these plantations as the native population began to decline from disease. A native population of 300,000 had been reduced to about 24,000 by 1920.

Americans within the government of the kingdom started rewriting Hawai’i constitution, resulting in a dramatic reduction of power for King “David” Kalākaua. In addition, the rights of natives and of Asian citizens were rewritten to exclude the ability to vote. In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani tried restoring royal power but was overthrown by various businessmen backed by the American military. The Republic of Hawai’i was the resulting form until the island’s government agreed in 1898 to join as the Territory of Hawai’i. Statehood then came to the islands in 1959.

Hawai’i’s Statehood

The first statehood bills for Hawai’i were introduced as early as 1919 to the U.S. Congress by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole. Kalanianaole was the non-voting Territory of Hawai’i delegate sent to the Congress for this purpose. In 1935, 1947, and 1950, more bills were introduced for the same purpose.

The statehood bill was finally approved by Congress in 1959 in the form of the Hawai’i Admission Act. A referendum received 94% of Hawai’ian resident votes supporting the statehood. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the proclamation making Hawai’i the 50th state on August 21, 1959, a date which fell on the third Friday of August in that year.

Celebrating Statehood Day in Hawai’i

One might expect the Hawai’ian statehood day to be filled with fireworks and celebrations, but it is in fact a largely controversial holiday. Hawai’i receiving statehood was pushed by its role in World War II. By the 1970s, over a decade since receiving statehood, Hawai’i entered a Hawai’ian Renaissance period that was inspired by the revival of indigenous culture worldwide.

This helped expose native culture and more assertive voices against cultural loss, political issues, and land rights. In 1993, President Bill Clinton formally issued an American apology for the coup and annexation that occurred in Hawai’i a century ago, fueling the Hawai’ian Sovereignty Movement. With this in mind, here are some recommendations for celebrating Statehood Day in Hawai’i:

  • Visit the Bishop Museum in Honolulu to learn more about the natural and cultural histories of the islands.
  • See the ‘Iolani Palace, the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
  • Check out the Hawai’i State Art Museum, also located in Honolulu.