By Jared Olar
This week’s “From the Local History Room” column spotlights a recent addition to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection (previously announced here).
The library last month received a donation of an impressive collection of materials and memorabilia from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama as well as some historical materials from Obama’s time as a U.S. Senator for Illinois from 2004 to 2008.
These materials, which include numerous U.S., European, and Canadian newspapers, magazines, and assorted political campaign and convention memorabilia, were donated by Amy and Mark Werner of Pekin. Amy Werner was the first director of Pekin Main Street, and she and her husband are active in Democratic Party politics.
Obama’s chief place in history is as the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. Notably, one of the articles in the Werners’ collection is a Peoria Journal Star opinion column by James Unland, formerly of Pekin, which recalls the link between Obama’s historic election in 2008 and perhaps the most important achievement of U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen of Pekin.
“As President-elect Obama prepares to enter the White House,” Unland wrote in the Jan. 4, 2009 Journal Star, “it is worth remembering that it was central Illinois’ own Senator Everett Dirksen who orchestrated what has been called the single most important congressional vote of the 20th century, the U.S. Senate’s vote to close off the civil rights debate on June 10, 1964.
“That vote, which ended a 12-week filibuster by southern Democratic senators, paved the way for the final passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The move was significant enough that it landed Dirksen on the cover of Time magazine on June 19, 1964.
“Without the support of Dirksen and Republican senators, who were in the minority, this landmark legislation would have been dead at the starting line . . .”
As it happens, the Werners until recently owned and lived in Dirksen’s former home. Obama’s own direct link to Pekin is a visit to the Pekin Public Library during his time in the U.S. Senate.
The Werners’ donated materials are available for researchers in two archival boxes in the wide storage cabinet in the back corner of the Local History Room.