Dirksen Congressional Center head promotes study of senator PEKIN — Tiffany White, director of the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin, believes it is not enough to study the actions of historical figures. To truly appreciate the role that figures like U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen played in history, it is important to examine their background and
Dirksen Congressional Center head promotes study of senator
PEKIN — Tiffany White, director of the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin, believes it is not enough to study the actions of historical figures. To truly appreciate the role that figures like U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen played in history, it is important to examine their background and their upbringing.
“I want folks to gain an appreciation for the fact that policy-makers are people,” White said. “The decisions they make and the way they go about their business is shaped by where they have come from.”
Having been recently named to the Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, White will have an opportunity to spread her message on the value of examining the private histories of the men and women who feature in public history. Illinois Humanities, an organization dedicated to promoting a wide range of humanities throughout the states, selects speakers for its bureau every two years to make presentations on topics ranging from music to acting to history.
“An organization can browse the list of speakers and select one or two of them,” White said. “Then they will apply to have that person come and speak to their organization through Illinois Humanities. Normally, with speakers’ bureaus, you have to pay an honorarium of a speaker’s fee. That cost is covered by Illinois Humanities. (The Road Scholar program) allows smaller, not-for-profit organizations like historical societies and libraries, who might not be able to afford a speaker’s fee of $250 or $500 to bring speakers into their own communities without having to incur a cost.”
When she applied for the Road Scholar program, White submitted an overview on her presentation to Illinois Humanities. Given her position as the director of an organization named after Pekin’s most prominent political figure, it is not surprising that she chose to profile Dirksen. True to her message that understanding a person facilitates understanding how he shaped events, she plans to focus on Dirksen’s humble origins as one of six brothers who were raised by a twice-widowed immigrant mother. She believes the presentation will have broad public appeal because it is an uplifting story of someone who overcame early circumstances to become a person of consequence.
“I think it’s a story worth telling in Illinois, and I think it’s one that people can be inspired by and can relate to,” White added. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have happened if not for Everett Dirksen and his dedication to it, the position he held as Senate Minority Leader and the skills that he brought to the task of getting that legislation passed. It was one of the most consequential pieces of legislation of the 20th century.”
Road Scholars serve for a term of two years, after which they can re-apply for the program. If White chooses to re-apply for the program in 2023, she will either select a new topic or alter her presentation to address a new theme. Illinois Humanities fund up to five speaking engagements a year for each Road Scholar. So far, White is scheduled to give three presentations in 2012, with the first being a Zoom presentation to a German-American historical society from Ohio later this month.
“I will be giving some presentations virtually,” White added. “Illinois Humanities came to the decision they would not allow or support speakers giving in-person presentations until at least some time this spring because of the (COVID-19) pandemic. I think that will get extended into the summer.”
While she is not currently allowed to give in-person presentation, White believes that her message of Dirksen’s perseverance will strongly resonate with an Illinois audience regardless of the platform.
“Everybody has the potential to make a difference in this country, and we have many inspiring examples of that in American history,” she said. “There is greatness within all of us if we tap into ourselves in the most meaningful way possible.”