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Center for Oral History: Hear from the voices of Hawaiʻi's past

Young women work in a pineapple cannery in Hawaiʻi on Nov. 20, 1928.
Department of Labor - Women's Bureau
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Young women work in a pineapple cannery in Hawaiʻi on Nov. 20, 1928.

Hawaiʻi Public Radio has been proud to work with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Ethnic Studies Center for Oral History in a partnership that began in 2018 with segments on The Conversation.

Right now, as part of an ongoing joint project, we're bringing you voices from Hawaiʻi’s past that are centered around a different theme every month, with each segment relating to community perseverance and resilience. You can hear these voices on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and once a month on The Conversation.

Since the beginning of this current project in September 2022, we've heard from labor organizers during Hawaiʻi's plantation days, activists involved with the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, and political leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. This collaboration is supported by the SHARP Initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

Read and listen to those stories below and stay tuned for more.

Labor movement during Hawaiʻi's plantation days

Reviving Kahoʻolawe after decades of military bombing

History of Hawaiʻi's political landscape

  • President John F. Kennedy visits with the Democratic candidate for governor of Hawaiʻi, John A. Burns (left), in the Oval Office on Aug. 9, 1962.
    Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
    Public Domain
    With less than a week until Election Day, we're looking back at Hawaiʻi’s political past when organizers and workers were the backbones of campaigns. As part of our ongoing project with the UH Mānoa Center for Oral History, we hear insights from two men who worked behind the scenes to support the late Gov. John A. Burns.
  • Casey Harlow / HPR
    It’s been a little more than a week since Election Day, and while the national picture remains a bit unsettled, Hawaiʻi's political outlook is pretty clear. It’s dominated by Democrats — that’s been the story since shortly before statehood. As part of our ongoing project with the UH Mānoa Center for Oral History, we hear insights from two politicians about the legacy of progressives in Hawaiʻi.
  • President Dwight Eisenhower, wearing a bright red carnation lei, stands at attention with Gov. William Quinn during the playing of anthems at the airport following the president's arrival in Honolulu, June 20, 1960. (AP Photo)
    When it comes to political parties, Hawaiʻi has been dominated by the Democrats since the elections of 1954. As part of an ongoing project with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Center for Oral History, we hear from some Republican leaders who played a role in the state's political discussions and debates.
  • The 1978 Hawaiʻi Constitutional Convention
    University of Hawaii
    In about a week and a half, Josh Green will take office as the next governor of Hawaiʻi. At this time of change for the administration, we're taking a look back at a turning point in the state's political history: the 1978 Hawaiʻi Constitutional Convention, sometimes known as the "Con Con."

Resilience during Japanese American incarceration and World War II

The path toward recovering Native Hawaiian practices

Black History Month: Adapting to Hawaiʻi despite prejudice

  • Ulyless "Mushy" Robinson was born on April 10, 1909, in Los Angeles, California.
    Center for Oral History at the University of Hawaiʻi
    February is Black History Month, but the story of African Americans in Hawaiʻi is one that is often not heard. As part of our continuing project with the Center for Oral History, we're taking a listen to two people who had very different experiences in mid-20th century Hawaiʻi.
  • Bertha Dunson was born on March 8, 1918, in New Orleans. She and her husband arrived in Hawaiʻi during World War II as civilian workers for the U.S. military.
    Center for Oral History at the University Of Hawaiʻi
    Ernest Golden was born in 1923 in Athens, Georgia. He left the South in 1942 for a civil service job in Hawaiʻi and stayed afterward in the airport porter industry. Golden shared his thoughts on the challenges of building community through business and assimilation. With the Center for Oral History, we're bringing you his voice and many others during Black History Month.

Third anniversary of Hawaiʻi's pandemic shutdown

Tsunami Awareness Month: The 1946 Hilo tsunami

Earth Month: Protecting Hawaiʻi's rare habitats

May Day is Lei Day

Building resilience as sea level rise threatens coastal areas

  • Diamond Head from Waikīkī Beach in the 1890s.
    Hawaiʻi State Archives
    The Waikīkī and Ala Moana areas are especially vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding linked to sea level rise. They used to be wetlands, ponds and waterways before they were drained for the Ala Wai Canal. Our partners at the Center for Oral History shared some firsthand memories of marine life from the early 1900s.
  • Retrieving fish from a net on March 26, 1937.
    Hawaiʻi State Archives
    Food security continues to be an issue around the islands, but traditional methods like fishponds are helping to build resilience. Researchers say ponds produced nearly 2 million pounds of fish a year before Western contact. With the Center for Oral History, we're sharing voices of experience when it comes to managing fishponds.
  • Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
    Limu is not just seaweed, it's the foundation of the marine life food chain. Our partners at the Center for Oral History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa introduce limu gatherers Wally Ito, Vivian Lehua Ainoa and Alyson Napua Barrows.
  • "Lanikai House. From Waimanalo side; Trent Trust Company." Undated.
    Hawaiʻi State Archives
    Sea level rise is a global concern that also hits home here in Hawaiʻi. But it's not just a story about the ocean. It's also about sand and sea walls. With our partners at the UH Mānoa Center for Oral History, we're sharing perspectives from those who remember sand dunes in Waiʻanae and wide beaches in Kailua.

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