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Remembering our birth as a state: Alaska entered the Union 59 years ago, starting a new life

News-Miner opinion: It was 59 years ago this week that the U.S. flag took in a 49th state — ours.

Alaska joined the Union on Jan. 3, 1959, marking the end of one lengthy and contentious process and the beginning of another one, that of blossoming as an equal among sister states. 

The Daily News-Miner editorial on that day recounted the march to statehood — a march to which the newspaper itself had given a strong push to under the leadership of its new publisher, C.W. Snedden. The newspaper had previously been opposed to statehood.

The celebratory statehood editorial is printed in full below.

 

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Jan. 3, 1959

Today we are a state.

When the people of Alaska awoke this morning, they probably didn’t feel any differently than they ordinarily would. Yet, today, one senses the importance of this historic day — a day which will live in American history.

Today Alaska joins the proud roster of states which began with transfer from colonial status to statehood of the 13 original colonies.

Alaskans are making history today — just as Arizona made history on Feb. 14, 1912, when it joined the Union. And it is almost 47 years to a day since New Mexico joined the Union — on Jan. 6, 1912.

Alaska took its first step toward statehood back in 1867.

That initial step was the purchase of Russian America — a land discovered by Vitus Bering in 1741.

Alaska was termed “Seward’s Folly” then by some.

Seventeen years after the Alaska purchase, Congress provided for appointment of a governor and the organization of a government for the District of Alaska. Sitka became the temporary capital.

In 1906, Congress empowered Alaska to elect a delegate. Alaska became an organized territory on Aug. 24, 1912, and in 1913, the first Territorial Legislature assembled in Juneau. In 1916, Judge James Wickersham, Alaska’s delegate to Congress, introduced the first statehood bill.

The late Anthony J. (Tony) Dimond, one of Alaska’s great leaders, advocated statehood at every opportunity during his service as delegate.

The present U.S. senator, E.L. (Bob) Bartlett, introduced a statehood bill in the Eightieth Congress in 1947, and the campaign began. Every Congress since then has considered statehood. A series of congressional committees visited Alaska to hold hearings.

In the fall of 1956, Alaskans selected a provisional delegation to Congress, consisting of Ernest Gruening — now a senator and a former governor of the territory; William A. Egan, president of the constitutional convention, and now governor of Alaska; Ralph J. Rivers, now a U.S. representative and a former territorial attorney general.

For the first time in the long, hard fight for statehood, Alaskans were dealing with an administration favorable and sympathetic to Alaskan aims and objectives. We were fortunate in having as secretary of the interior a man who was cognizant of Alaska’s aspirations and who did everything in his power to see that they were achieved.

Secretary Fred A. Seaton has earned a permanent foremost position in the “hall of fame” of the 49th state — earned not only for his effective leadership during the statehood battle but also for his countless previous executive orders establishing the foundation for building a sound new state government.

Secretary Seaton and the Republican administration have done their job well. The basis for the new state government is solid and sound. The challenge of building a sound government upon this firm foundation is now faced by the Democratic administration of our new state as they take over the reins.

With one or two notable exceptions, the press of Alaska campaigned vigorously on behalf of statehood. The News-Miner annual progress editions were circulated widely in Congress and elsewhere as a means of showing that Alaskans were ready to become a state.

There are no one or two persons who can be given sole credit for the great honor being bestowed on Alaskans today.

There are literally hundreds of men and women who worked tirelessly to make today possible. These hundreds were spearheaded by a handful of Alaskans who gave tirelessly of their time and resources to bring this great achievement about. There is no need to record all their names here — they are known to all and will not be forgotten by the generations of Alaskans to come.

Today we are a state, proud and mighty, yet humble in the realization of the great honor and responsibility bestowed upon us.

Today, America’s eyes are upon our “Great Land.”

And Alaskans are more cognizant today of America — Alaskans can say, “We are full-fledged Americans at last.”

It is a solemn, historic and hallowed day.

May God bless the new state of Alaska — and those public spirited men and women who made this wonderful day possible.

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.

Guidelines

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at newsminer.com. Contact the editor with questions at letters@newsminer.com or call 459-7574.

Community Perspective

Send Community Perspective submissions by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707) or via email (letters@newsminer.com). Submissions must be 500 to 750 words. Columns are welcome on a wide range of issues and should be well-written and well-researched with attribution of sources. Include a full name, email address, daytime telephone number and headshot photograph suitable for publication (email jpg or tiff files at 150 dpi.) You may also schedule a photo to be taken at the News-Miner office. The News-Miner reserves the right to edit submissions or to reject those of poor quality or taste without consulting the writer.

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