UCC members from Hawaii pay tribute at Grover Cleveland's New Jersey grave
The grave of 19th-century President Grover Cleveland blends with others at New Jersey's Princeton Cemetery. But on Sunday, April 23, the modest monument was adorned with colorful leis, beads and leaves, placed there by a delegation of native Hawaiians who came to honor the New Jersey native's memory.
It was Cleveland who defended the rights of Hawaiians during his second term as president in the 1890s, when sugar plantation owners were overthrowing their queen and seeking annexation to the United States.
Cleveland befriended Hawaiian Queen Lili'uokalani, a Congregationalist, and advocated her "speedy return to the throne" in an 1894 declaration. But he was overruled. Hawaii was annexed in 1898 and became a state 61 years later.
"We don't know if this is the first visit of native Hawaiians to this gravesite, but may it not be the last," said the Rev. Kaleo Patterson of Honolulu before leading prayers yesterday. A steady drizzle evaporated as 13 people gathered at the gravesite and the sun burst through the clouds.
The group stood in a circle with Patterson, a UCC minister and the president of the Honolulu-based Pacific Justice and Reconciliation Center.
Joining them were members of Christ Congregation UCC of Princeton, N.J., who earlier hosted the Hawaiians at a worship service. The Rev. Charles McCollough, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and beads under his tweed blazer, also participated in the graveside ceremony.
Many native Hawaiians have never accepted the U.S. armed invasion of their sovereign nation and feel it has contributed to significant economic and social problems which continue to this day. They are leading an educational effort, which includes learning about such historical figures as Cleveland, in hopes of changing their government to better represent their culture and traditions.
"We just wanted to come and visit and get a firsthand knowledge of the person and history of Cleveland," said Patterson. The delegation also spent time in Caldwell, Cleveland's birthplace.
The trip was among several events that led up to an April 30 national day of prayer for Hawaiian natives that groups on the islands have been putting together. The aim is to raise support for efforts to reduce poverty and crime among Hawaiian natives, as well as granting some form of self-government and self-determination.
"We have the shortest life expectancy, the highest rate for major diseases, suicide, homelessness and incarceration," said Patterson of the native Hawaiians, or "Kanaka Maoli." Patterson was citing a resolution of the National Council of Churches, adopted in 1993.
By 1880, Hawaii had one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a traditional land use system that allowed natives free and unrestricted use of land and ocean resources, provided they paid taxes to local managers and the local monarchy.
In 1894, then-President Cleveland established a national day of prayer and repentance over the U.S. role in the monarch's overthrow. Almost a century later in 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a Joint Resolution by Con- gress to apologize for the injustices done to the native Hawaiians.
The visit to Princeton and Caldwell was organized as an educational mission. "We've all wrestled with how to do good educating on the Hawaiian issues, to reach the mainstream," said Patterson. "We began to see that educating people about Cleveland would be a good way to better explain the struggle. We will probably develop an educational project on his life."
The purpose is to pray for "true justice and true reconciliation," Patterson added, "and it's more than just a political recognition. It's to educate and bring hope."
Reprinted with permission from the Trenton (N.J.) Times. Associated Press also contributed to this report.