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tv   France 24 News  PBS  September 19, 2013 4:00am-4:31am PDT

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a break, and you go out and start your cars." >> success of the convention was very much due to the fact that bill egan was the president. he basically melded a bunch of individuals coming from different directions, be they fishermen or lawyers or big- time politicians, individuals who'd never participated-- he welded them into a body that worked extremely effectively together. >> narrator: the majority of the territory's population before the second world war had been composed of alaska natives who began wielding political influence at the beginning of the century. the major organization for alaska natives was the alaska native brotherhood and sisterhood. >> the oldest native organization in the united states, almost the oldest one that's on record, is the alaska native brotherhood, organized
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in 1912, officially organized and developed the leadership of southeast alaska and for alaska natives out of that group. the alaska native brotherhood is where the nucleus of the native power was organized, where it was developed, and where the leadership came from. >> the alaska native brotherhood endorsed the statehood act. they wanted statehood because it would give them a larger voice, they felt, with representatives back in congress and better control and out from under the bia's thumbs. people don't realize how federalized we were in rural alaska, the native community under the bia. >> narrator: former colonel and now delegate marvin "muktuk" marston had worked with governor gruening to enlist alaska natives into the territorial guard during world war ii. it was an early warning scout brigade to watch out for japanese landings on mainland alaska. now he wanted alaska to
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recognize native land claims. >> marston was, no doubt, the most eloquent and impassioned defender of what h were the best for native rights at the constitutional convention. >> if you look at the state then and look at the population, alaska natives were probably about 40% to 45% of the population of alaska at that time, 1956, pre-pipeline-- 40% easily, one delegate. so you know, thinking to yourself out loud, that the people who made up the constitutional convention and elected the delegates or selected the delegates weren't looking at the population base at all. >> narrator: after a long debate, the delegates chose not to address land claims or special hunting or fishing rights for alaskan natives, an omission that remains one of the major criticisms of alaska's constitution. instead, they passed a resolution supporting a federal native land claims settlement and a provision renouncing
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claims to lands that congress might grant to natives in the future. most alaskans still resented that far-off federal bureaucracies and congress ran the territory and that the president appointed their governor. not only had the territorial government been weak and ineffective; so were local governments. what's more, beyond the boundaries of incorporated cities, there was no local government at all. >> one of the realities that we faced was, the county was not allowed in alaska because the mining interests and the fisheries' interests did not want to have a jurisdiction that could tax their properties: their canneries, their mining properties outside of cities. so therefore, congress specifically prohibited the territorial legislature from establishing counties. >> narrator: the delegates knew many alaskans preferred to live a more isolated lifestyle,
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but they still wanted services like roads, schools, and police protection. the delegates struggled to bridge the gap. >> they knew they didn't want counties, yet they wanted effective local government. so rather than abolishing cities, they created boroughs so that the boundaries of local government would reach beyond the narrow boundaries of the old cities. >> the borough was conceived as a very flexible unit. in talking about this area-wide notion, we looked at different parts of alaska. we actually thought of-- looked at how it might do for the anchorage region. we looked at southeastern alaska. we looked at the kotzebue area and lower kuskokwim and sort of tried to see
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how it might adapt itself. >> narrator: by reaching beyond municipal boundaries, boroughs would eliminate overlapping and competing service areas and taxing jurisdictions that had plagued cities and counties in the lower 48. >> well, certainly the borough act was one of the most controversial aspects of the constitution, and it was sorely resisted by those in the legislature for a number of years after we became a state. >> narrator: the constitutional convention had always been about statehood, and as deliberations wore on, some delegates began to wonder how to improve alaska's chances in congress. someone else, who wasn't even an alaskan, was already working on that question. george lehleitner had been helping hawaiians on statehood when he met bob bartlett and other alaskans.
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lehleitner decided the hawaiians weren't assertive enough, but alaskans had the kind of drive he admired. >> the tennessee plan was cooked up by a new orleans businessman named george lehleitner who sort of studied american history and realized how, when tennessee was proposing to be a state, in 1796, i believe it was, they elected a slate of sort of a phantom or shadow slate of senators and representatives and sent them to washington to lobby for statehood. well, lehleitner suggested, well, with hawaii and alaska statehoods stalled, why not revive it? >> narrator: the delegates knew congress wouldn't grant statehood simply because three would-be congressmen showed up from alaska. however, the ploy could focus national attention on alaska's quest. the delegates placed the tennessee plan on the constitutional referendum scheduled for the spring. it would authorize a special election to choose two provisional u.s. senators
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and a representative. there was another ordinance that some delegates wanted on the referendum ballot, and like the tennessee plan, it, too, was a strategic ploy. >> the fish trap issue in my estimation was the thing that created the biggest push for statehood, push for ratifying our constitution. >> narrator: delegate eldor lee was a commercial fisherman from petersburg, where nearly everyone depended on the salmon fishery and opposed the fish traps. like many rural alaskans, lee thought fish traps were a burden upon the people of alaska and that the people wanted them out. most delegates shared lee's anger at fish traps, but a specific provision banning them seemed the kind of thing bill egan and others warned should be left to the new state legislature. so while the delegates didn't ban fish traps in the
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constitution, they put a separate advisory vote on abolishing fish traps on the constitutional referendum. >> and i think that it was a very clever thing that the constitutional delegates did was to make that an ordinance to go on the ballot at the same time that the constitution was to be voted on because it was a very, very popular issue and would get out the vote, which it did. >> narrator: through the dark days of december and january, the delegates worked against the clock in committee and in plenary sessions. the support staff recorded minutes and notes and digested the raw information into daily reports. drafts of articles and revisions of drafts were distributed along with tom stewart's background material every morning. and prominent in the plenary chamber was a board that let everyone know just how little
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time was left to accomplish their goal. finally, 75 days came to an end. on the afternoon of february 5th, bill egan spoke from the podium. the question was, shall the proposed constitution for the state of alaska be agreed upon by the convention? then he asked the chief clerk to call the roll. one at a time, all 54 delegates there said "yea." one delegate had left fairbanks and did not vote: r.e. robertson, an attorney from juneau who had represented the canned salmon industry. >> it was so emotional at the end because it was like we'd been through--i mean, starting out with 55 different individuals who had such-- so many of them, such wide backgrounds--and that they
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could, they did come together. >> by the time the overall constitution was written, there was virtually unanimous agreement that the constitution couldn't be better, that it's going to work for the future state. >> narrator: late in the day on february 6th, the chief clerk called the names of each delegate, beginning with bill egan's. one by one, the delegates affixed their signatures. after the last delegate had signed, egan addressed the convention and commended them all for a job well done. a convention of everyday alaskans had crafted a constitution that political scientists and scholars would later call one of the best, if not the best, state constitutions ever written. in april, the constitution was overwhelmingly approved by alaskan voters along with the fish trap and tennessee plan
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proposals. that fall, alaskans chose their tennessee plan delegates, and now it was on to washington. in december 1956, alaska tennessee plan delegates bill egan and ralph rivers set out to drive all the way from fairbanks to washington d.c. the trip was a publicity stunt that would stop at each state capital that had joined the union via the tennessee plan tactic. ernest gruening would meet them on the way for the last leg of the journey. >> they then arrived in washington. they didn't know what was going to happen. during the previous congressional session, '55 to '57, i think statehood bills for both states were simply recommitted to committee.
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they didn't get to the floor. it was a terribly depressing time. so with 1957 dawning and the new congress, they had no particular reason for hope. >> narrator: on january 14, 1957, alaska's tennessee plan delegates were formally introduced to the senate from the gallery. the senators applauded but denied the request to seat them as members of congress or enact statehood legislation. bob bartlett knew that it wouldn't be that simple. >> some have charged that the tennessee plan was not as effective as it might have been. it's really sort of difficult to say. it was, however, initially quite controversial because bartlett opposed it because he didn't want them stepping on his toes, and he had been really the master in charge back there in d.c. >> narrator: bartlett's likability and hard work could only take statehood so far in
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congress, even within his own democratic party. with congressional republicans, bartlett was at a disadvantage. what's more, the president, dwight d. eisenhower, was a republican. >> it was a matter of the majority of the u.s. senators supporting statehood, but the filibuster power was with the southern anti-civil rights senators, and so that statehood bills couldn't successfully move through both houses. >> narrator: the key would be turning around those powerful leaders in the senate and house who kept alaska statehood bottled up in committee. >> was it true that there's a split in your own democratic party between the conservative wing, the southern wing of the democratic party, those 15 states which believe that a few more northern senators might upset their filibuster rights? >> i have heard that stated, and i think there's truth to it.
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on the other hand, i am happy to say that we have some very fine support from southern senators. some of those people have come to our assistance and are working actively for us, but i think that situation does exist, yes. >> the congress was very narrowly divided partisan-wise in that 85th congress. the senate was 49 to 47 democrat, a little broader in the house but not that much, and the democratic congress, some say, had been having great difficulty in getting eisenhower to support their legislation. it was sort of a stand-off. >> narrator: alaska needed a republican face in congress to balance the tennessee plan delegates, all of them democrats. >> the statehood movement on one level was dominated by the democrats in alaska, with a couple of notable exceptions, among those being bob atwood of the anchorage times, even though he was a pro-gruening republican, but he certainly
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was a republican, but then the other being c.w. snedden, publisher of the fairbanks daily news-miner. >> well, bill snedden was a great asset to the cause of statehood. he was a hard-nosed republican, very party motivated, but he was all for statehood. >> narrator: bill snedden, the publisher of the fairbanks daily news-miner, was in for a pleasant surprise. president eisenhower had just appointed his good friend, fred seaton of nebraska, as secretary of the interior. >> working with snedden was a young lawyer named ted stevens. stevens was a protégé of c.w. snedden. it was snedden's connections with fred seaton, secretary of interior, helped ted stevens to get a job as a solicitor with the department of interior. so all this time that this was happening, snedden was working on the outside, and ted stevens was sort of laboring
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inside the bowels, with fred seaton of the interior department, pushing alaska statehood. >> narrator: together seaton and stevens put interior's resources to work helping the statehood cause with information and occasionally political clout. >> seaton, snedden, and stevens worked very closely together, not so much to gain votes for statehood as the tennessee plan delegation was doing but to neutralize the opponents, or the obstructionists, as i call them, who were always doing things to try to prevent the bill from getting to the floor. >> narrator: the statehood campaign was media savvy. alaskans understood that national press coverage would influence congress. [musical intro] ♪ >> good evening. this is see it now, produced by friendly and murrow.
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the subject: statehood for alaska and hawaii. alaskans know much more about the united states than many stateside americans know about alaska. if alaska wins statehood, it will be not only the youngest state in the union but will also have the youngest citizens. >> well, statehood has had only one opponent who has gone on record opposed to statehood and who is organized and spends money opposing statehood, and that's the alaska salmon industry, which has headquarters in seattle. >> reporter ed scott talks to homesteaders larry and rusty lancashire. >> if alaska controlled their land--at least a large share of it--and if they sold the land, for instance--as long as it gets into somebody's hands that something's going to be done with it. >> alaskans have been on the threshold of statehood for years. 1958 they figure is their big chance. even the territory's politically appointed governor mike stepovich hopes he is
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the last of the breed. >> i hope that i am the last appointed governor here of the territory of alaska. and i may be talking myself out of a job, as they say, but that's good enough for me because i want statehood. >> another effort will be made in the current session of congress to bring hawaii and alaska into the union. a gallup poll released just today indicates that 73% of the people believe that alaska should be admitted, as against 6% who oppose it. there has been no great public debate on the matter of bringing these two territories into the union. also, the congress has not appeared to feel any sense of urgency about the matter. we have presented this report in the hope of starting a small argument about it. good night, and good luck. >> narrator: americans had accepted the moral case for statehood. all the lobbying, cajoling, and public relations work was paying off in congress, too, as key opponents seemed to soften.
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>> the votes were always there. the obstruction was to keep it from coming to the floor. i think by '57, '58, there was a genuine sense that territorial rule was wrong if america was to achieve a role of world leadership. and what worse example to the world than for the congress of the united states to prevent a statehood bill from being voted on? >> narrator: finally the statehood bill was slated for a floor vote in the house on may 28, 1958, and a young vic fischer was there to witness it. >> i happened to be in washington d.c. in may of 1958 when the u.s. house approved statehood. and it was thrilling to be in the gallery and have the vote be tallied, and at the key
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point where the majority vote was cast, bob turned to the gallery. it was very emotional. bob turned to the gallery where his staff sat, and i was with the staff, and bob went sort of like this. we made it. and it was a very emotional moment. >> narrator: now statehood's fate was in the hands of the senate, where the bill was scheduled to come to the floor in the last week of june. on the morning of june 30, 1958, former constitutional delegate george sundborg was
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back at work in the newsroom of the fairbanks news-miner when the wire service teletype rang and wrote out a short dispatch from washington d.c. the united states senate had passed the alaska statehood bill that afternoon by a vote of 64 to 20. as newspapers delivered the word, celebrations spontaneously broke out across the new state. a week later, president eisenhower signed the alaska statehood act into law.
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>> a helicopter carries president eisenhower to the white house from his gettysburg farm for the unveiling of a new star. the president has the pleasure to bring a new state into the union: alaska, the largest of the 49. with national and alaskan officials present, he signs the proclamation, using six pens for the historic document. >> narrator: the road to statehood had taken many twists and turns in 92 years, but for 55 alaskans, the ceremony in washington must have reminded them of another ceremony, the day they signed the alaska constitution in fairbanks. >> looking back 50 years, being in the constitutional convention, working on the constitution, was the most important and most creative thing i've done in my life. >> it was a once-in-a-lifetime
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experience, and, you know, almost to a man or woman, they did act in the best interests of alaska. >> the constitution of the state of alaska is a model. and it's a model because it has the heart of the people of alaska in it. ♪ >> ♪ eight stars of gold ♪ on a field of blue: ♪ alaska's flag. ♪ may it mean to you ♪ the blue of the sea, ♪ the evening sky, ♪ the mountain lakes,
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♪ and the flowers nearby; ♪ the gold of the early ♪ sourdough's dreams, ♪ the precious gold ♪ of the hills and streams; ♪ the brilliant stars ♪ in the northern sky: ♪ the bear, the dipper, ♪ and shining high, ♪ the great north star ♪ with its steady light, ♪ o'er land and sea ♪ a beacon bright. ♪ alaska's flag, ♪ to alaskans dear, ♪ the simple flag
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♪ of a last frontier. captioning by captionmax
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>> male announcer: the 49th star dvd with bonus features is available for $24.95 plus shipping and handling. to order a copy online, go to: or by mail:
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>> lucille clifton grew up in western new york, near buffalo, worked as a government clerk and office assistant. her first book, good times, was rated one of the best books of 1969 by the new york times. lucille clifton, who said, "one should wish to celebrate more than wish to be celebrated." >> won't you celebrate with me what i have shaped into a kind of life? i had no model. born in babylon both nonwhite and woman what did i see to be except myself? i made it up here on this bridge between starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight my other hand; come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me
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