When I was born, the American flag had 48 stars. This condition continued until 1959 when the admission of Alaska and then Hawaii gave us the 50 star flag we know today. You had to have been alive then to know the political upheaval that surrounded the entrance of these two states. Alaska was considered a Republican state with a principally white population. Hawaii was considered a Democratic state with a multi-racial composition because the friendliness of the native Hawaiians that had greeted waves of haoli, Chinese, Philippino, Portuguese, and Japanese not to mention the WW II era when it became the crossroads of the world.
The US was just starting to feel the first real stirrings of a swelling civil rights movement and the entry of Alaska and Hawaii became a focal point of many of the issues. To this day I remember an unbelievably racist editorial cartoon about the admission of Alaska and Hawaii showing a white woman in a flowing white gown hand in hand with a gorilla like character dressed in a muu muu and wearing a lei. It wasn’t some throw away piece of junk from some fringe group but an editorial cartoon widely seen in many newspapers.
In a world of suburbia stay at home moms wearing pearls and high heels while trying to create normalcy after the upheaval or WW II, there was the murmur of “women’s liberation” just starting to whisper somewhere in the background of “Father Knows Best”. Women were looking out towards the world, knowing they wanted a piece of the action.
This year, no matter what happens in November, in January someone will be sworn in to one of the two top positions in the land who have never lived under anything but a 50 star flag. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii the year I graduated from high school. Sarah Palin was born in Alaska the year my daughter was born. Each in their own way embodies the changes in our country since 1959. While he may be first, no one thinks that being black in any way disqualifies Barack Obama from serving as President. While she might be the first woman in the job, no one thinks that being female is a reason for Sarah Palin to be barred from being VP.
So this November is a time of lasts and firsts. It is a changeover from one generation to another, a dramatic image of the move from one way of thinking to another. Alaska and Hawaii may have been the last two states admitted to the union. Barack Obama of Hawaii or Sarah Palin of Alaska may be the first of African heritage or the first with a feminine gender elected to be President or Vice President. However you vote, you know that there have been positive changes in the history of our country since 1959. So let us celebrate a country that can improve itself and a new day when the two that are first come from the two that were last.