"This is a great day," he was quoted saying in the Daily Alaska Empire 50 years ago today. "This is the greatest day in Alaska history. The Congress has acted wisely and in the national interest. We in Alaska will justify what has been done this day."
After more than four decades of fighting for statehood, the final major battle for full admittance to the union had been fought with the passage of the Alaska Statehood Act that day. Seven days later, on Monday, July 7, 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law. Alaska officially became the 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959.
The Alaska Statehood Act was passed on the sixth day of debate in the senate after fending off the opposition of a determined group of senators, primarily from the south, that didn't feel Alaska was ready for statehood because of its population and what they believed would be an economic burden on the country, Associated Press reporter Frank Vaille wrote 50 years ago.
"During debate statehood supporters cited Alaska's admission as a redemption of the pledge for self-government made in the treaty acquiring it from Russia," Vaille's story reads in the June 30, 1058, edition of the Empire. "They saw it also as a psychological weapon of great value in the western world's battle for world opinion.
The senate's approval of the statehood act on June 30, 1958, was a memorable day, Alaska Constitutional Convention delegate and former territorial and state legislator Vic Fischer said in a recent interview.
"The big celebration came when the senate voted because that meant congress had approved it," he said.
Fischer had been in Juneau on June 29, 1958, and heard the statehood act had momentum in the senate and was likely to pass.