Story last updated at 7/1/2009 - 11:56 am
On July 4, 1959, the entire community of Juneau stood together with delegates from each of the 48 United States and special guests at the Veterans Memorial Building to witness the official raising of the 49th star flag. This momentous and long awaited occasion symbolized the determined efforts of Alaskans to earn a proper space in the Union.
As early as 1916, Alaska began looking towards statehood, but it would be a long and difficult road to see that dream become a reality. After 92 years of territorial status and nearly 43 years of fighting for statehood, Alaska was admitted to the Union.
In November 1955, 55 delegates from all parts of the territory gathered in Fairbanks to write the constitution for a state that did not exist yet. "There was never any feeling that we would not succeed," says George Rogers, a consultant at the Constitutional Convention. "We said we're going to create a brave new world and that went right across party lines.... We all wanted to have a society in which we (could) all operate, survive and go ahead."
On June 30, 1958, the U.S. Senate voted 64-20 to accept Alaska into the Union. On January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the statehood proclamation making Alaska the 49th state in the Union. It was the first state since Arizona in 1912 to be admitted to the Union.
Although the majority of Alaskans were for statehood, there was some warranted hesitation about how statehood would affect the Native Community and land rights.
"The state had already selected land around communities... that would have belonged to the Native people, but had already been given to the state of Alaska," says Marlene Johnson, who actively fought for the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act.
But on the festive day of the official raising of the 49th star flag, "Juneau broke loose in jubilant celebration... as the addition of the 49th star to the American Flag occasioned a festive round of parades, fireworks, parties and Independence Day ceremonies," according to the Juneau Daily Empire. It was a celebration that spanned beyond the boundaries of Juneau, with bonfires and festivities held through out the new state.
In Juneau, Secretary of State Hugh Wade, Governor William Egan, Juneau Mayor McSpadden along with the Yukon Defense Band, two color guards, and seven smiling princesses, each representing local service clubs, joined in the celebration. Delegates from each of the other 48 states were also present to witness the raising of the flag. The ceremony also included the ringing of the bell 49 times, signifying Alaska's place as the 49th state of the Union.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Alaska Statehood, the City and Borough of Juneau and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which resides in the Veterans Memorial Building, will host a 50th Anniversary of Alaska Statehood Celebration, including a re-enactment of the official raising of the 49th star and Ringing of the Bell ceremony.
The event will take place on July 4 at 9 a.m. at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum located at the corner of 4th and Main St. Juneau, Alaska. The ceremony is open to the public and the City and Borough of Juneau invites the nation to make this 50th anniversary celebration as jubilant as the 1959 celebration.
For details call 586-3572 or visit www.juneau.org/parkrec/museum.