Fighting for the Forty-Ninth Star: C. W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood

Article excerpt

Cole, Terrence. Fighting for the Forty-Ninth Star: C. W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Foundation, 2010. 502 pp. $30.

This book's narrative and interpretive scope is considerably broader than its title suggests. True, the study's main reference point is CW Snedden, a Grand Old Party partisan, a Fairbanks booster, and die owner and publisher of the Fairbanks Daily NewsMiner from 1950 to 1989. Terrence Cole, a University of Alaska historian, argues that he played a key but underappreciated part, both nationally and locally, in the 1958 attainment of Alaska statehood.

The book's first third is a concise history of the News-Miner and its pioneer publishers from gold rush days to its acquisition by Snedden, who was a newcomer to Alaska from Vancouvei, Washington, in 1950. Along the way, one leains much of life's texture in frontier Fairbanks. But the study expands from Faiibanks to Washington, D. C, to comprise a convincing explanation of the Alaska and related Hawaii statehood issues in the context of federal political dynamics and congressional civil rights debates of the 1950s. Many arguments were advanced by opponents of Alaska statehood, such as the regions non-contiguity with the lower forty-eight states and its small population and inadequate tax base.

There was a matter of Realpolitik as well: Republicans, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, expected a newly minted state of Alaska to elect Democrats to Congress while Hawaii was expected to return Republicans. The problem was reversed in the eyes of Democratic strategists. But the key obstacle, according to Cole, was the determination of southern segregationist Democrats to block the addition of Alaskan and Hawaiian congressional members - of whatever party - who would likely support civil rights legislation and break the power of southern filibusters. This interface between Alaska and Hawaii statehood and the crisis of the residual Old Souths congressional power was deliberately repressed in the 1950s debates because its explicit acknowledgment would have been too explosive to serve the goals of any of the contesting factions. Cole credits Roger Bell, the author of the 1984 analysis Last Among Equals on the politics of Hawaii statehood, as the only previous scholar to sufficiently stress this theme.

Among the heroes of Cole's story, aside from Snedden, are Eisenhower's Interior Secretary Fred Seaton, a former small-town newspaper publisher like Snedden, who became his friend and convinced a reluctant Eisenhower to endorse Alaska's admission to the union; Bob Bartlett, Alaska's Democratic territorial delegate to Congress, who employed a sensitive, self-effacing style to lobby for statehood; Ted Stevens, Snedden's protégeas Fairbanks U. …