Struggles to overcome rampant inequality
Recent headlines remind us that the struggle for economic and social justice, never ends! Poverty, racism and violence against African Americans, Latinx immigrants, Asians, and Pacific Islanders have galvanized public resistance and action.
Hawaiʻi’s history is filled with examples of struggles to overcome rampant inequality. In 1932, 4 Caucasians--Tommy Massie, Grace Fortescue, Albert Jones, Edward Lord--were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years each in the vigilante style murder of a young Hawaiian man, Joseph Kahahawai, age 20. The 10-year sentence was commuted by Governor Lawrence Judd to a one hour stay in his office, followed by all 4 defendants leaving Hawai‘i. In 1948, Hawaiians James Majors, age 20, and John Palakiko, age 19 were convicted of rape and first degree murder of an elderly Haole woman, Therese Wilder, and sentenced to hang. In this case, AQ and the ILWU helped mobilize community-wide support with petitions and demonstrations against their death penalty. This outpouring of support led to commutation of the death sentences in 1954, when Governor Samuel King reduced their sentences to life in prison. There was evidence that their confessions were coerced and that charges of rape were unfounded. These factors helped stoke the community support for the commutation. The Majors and Palakiko case became the cause that resulted in the Hawai‘i legislature’s abolition of the death penalty in 1955.
Years of education about racism, poverty and social justice by the ILWU was a major factor in community awareness of the issues. During AQ’s final illness in 2008, she was researching LGBTQ issues and saw these as the continuation of struggles for human rights. AQ’s friend, Claire Shimabukuro, tells us about bringing resource material to AQ’s hospital bed so she could continue to research and fight.
You will find these and other stories on our website: www.laborhistoryhawaii.org.
To support the Ah Quon McElrath documentary, you can write a checks to “UH Foundation” (noting “AQ McElrath Fund” on the memo line) and mail it to: University of Hawai`i Foundation, P.O. Box 11270, Honolulu, HI 96828. Or you can donate online at: www.uhfoundation.org/AQ .
Mahalo Nui Loa,