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Dirksen Center: Best-kept secret in Pekin?

Everett M. Dirksen
Henry Griffin/AP
Senator Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), Senate Minority leader, sits atop a table as he talks with newsmen on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Aug. 3, 1965. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)

As executive director of the Everett Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin, Tiffany White believes more people not only need to know more about the center but how government works in the United States.

“The mission of the Dirksen Center is to enhance the public understanding of Congress and to provide historical documents to historians, political scientists, researchers and biographers who are using these documents to tell the American story and how the legislative branch of our government operates,” she said.

White described Dirksen, who died in 1969, as an individual whose presence was larger than life. Born and raised in Pekin, Dirksen was the U.S. Representative of central Illinois from 1933 to 1950 and an Illinois Senator from 1950 to 1969. He served as the Senate Minority Leader from1959 to 1969), playing key roles in passing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968.

Along with holding the papers from Dirksen’s office, the center also holds the papers of congressmen Ray LaHood and Bob Michel. Materials from LaHood’s tenure as Secretary of Transportation are also included in the collection.

Dirksen holds a special place in American history, said White. “He represents one of our most highly idealized depictions of the American dream, the person who was born of no significance and died of great significance, mainly through hard work, perseverance and great character,” she said.

White said the center will soon announce the addition of three other collections.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.