Illinois History Minutes

January 4 Illinois History Minute


It’s January 4th, the day in 1896 when Everett McKinley Dirksen was born to German immigrants in Pekin. Dirksen spent nearly half his life representing Pekin and Illinois in Congress, including a decade as Senate Minority Leader. His deep voice and old-fashioned oratory led some to call him the “Wizard of Ooze”.

During the Vietnam War, Dirksen cut a patriotic spoken word record that made the Top 40 charts in 1967. “Gallant Men” was Dirksen’s own poem celebrating the members of America’s armed forces down through history. Dirksen said that “gallant men have built us a nation/ Passed us a torch of flame”, and that "tyrants must know, now as was then, they cannot stand, not as long as there are gallant men." The “Gallant Men” single was followed by an album, which won a Grammy in the documentary/spoken word category.

Dirksen’s bargaining skills helped break a southern Democratic filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And he helped draft the Voting Rights Act in 1965. A fiscal conservative, Dirksen is widely credited with joking, in response to big-spending proposals, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money”.