Study Guide

Everett Dirksen in Voting Rights Act

By U.S. Congress

Everett Dirksen

In the grand scheme of American politics, Mr. Dirksen might not make any huge headlines (Dirk what-now?), but in moving the Voting Rights Act forward the man was nearly indispensable.

For one, he provided crucial Republican support to a bill that might have sunk with the Southern Democrats—Democrats that would ultimately move to the Republican party after the party realignment caused by the Civil Rights Act—and for two, he, alongside Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, wrote the bill in the first place.

The child of German immigrants, a young Everett dropped out of law school to serve in World War I; an adventure that was probably a bit more harrowing than if he had waited for the next World War to roll around. After a brief stint as a baker and an electric washing-machine investor (like those will ever catch on, right?) he landed himself a seat on the Pekin City Council.

Once he made it to the House of Representatives, he quickly made himself part of the furniture, neatly earning his re-election a total of seven times. He supported many of FDR's New Deal Policies, and made a name for himself as a moderate Republican, known for his penchant for flipping his stance on issues. After a fight with chorioretinitis in his right eye, he had to put his constant re-election-having on hold, and after his recovery decided to get elected as Senator instead.

His political savvy, ruffled experience, and somewhat over dramatic rhetoric earned him the moniker "the Wizard of Ooze" from his critics. We wish our critics would give us such an amazing nickname: it makes him sound like a ghost from Ghostbusters.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came along, he threw his weight into the ring, managing to push it through a Southern Democrat Filibuster after fifty-seven grueling days. Probably tuckered out from the experience, he was hesitant to throw his support after Johnson's Voting Rights Act plan, but after the bloody events at Selma he was willing to do his part.

Due to his and Katzenbach's huge influence on the bill, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had an informal name—the Dirksenbach bill.

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