“Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come,” intoned U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen as he called for cloture on June 10, 1964, ending a prolonged filibuster against the Civil Rights bill. During 16 years in the House and nearly 19 in the Senate, the Pekin native perfected the art of the possible. His operating principle was pragmatism, and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a tribute to his persistent leadership.
As a youth, Dirksen honed his oratorical ability by preaching to the family cow. He later adopted the advice of orator William Jennings Bryan: to speak to the folks in the back of the audience. Dirksen’s tousled hair and rumpled clothes gave him a folksy appeal, and he colored his rhetoric with humorous, homespun stories, Biblical references and allusions to Lincoln. But as his wife Louella once wrote, “His greatest stage was the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill.”
An 11-foot-tall bronze statue of Dirksen stands in Pekin’s Mineral Springs Park, matching one on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. Sculpted in 1975 by Illinois artist Carl Tolpo, the heroic Dirksen rises between a donkey in a fedora and an elephant, each with human arms. An oil can—in his words, “mightier than the sword”—testifies to his persuasive ability to smooth relations between the Democrats and Republicans.
Adapted from a June 2004 article in Arts Alive! magazine.
Everett Dirksen is said tohave written 100 short stories, five full-length novels and numerous plays—although only one play was published. In 1967, he won a Grammy for Best Documentary Recording for “Gallant Men,” which sold more than 500,000 copies. His wife enthused that Dirksen was fifth among the best-selling male vocalists that year—topping Elvis, Dean Martin and Bob Dylan. Two additional records and a children’s book followed. iBi