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Taking another look at Gov. Otto Kerner

Conference on April 13 will go beyond corruption charges to examine accomplishments in mental health, education, civil rights

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[April 01, 2013]  SPRINGFIELD -- He was a decorated soldier and a tough prosecutor. He governed a major state and helped the nation examine racial violence. He became a federal judge but wound up in federal prison.

Gov. Otto Kerner and his complex legacy will be the focus of an April 13 conference presented by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Political experts, journalists and former Kerner aides will gather for a reassessment of Illinois' 33rd governor.

Panels of experts will examine the goals and accomplishments of Kerner's administration, his public and private personas, his conviction on corruption charges, and the views of the journalists who covered him.

The public is invited to attend this examination of an important Illinois figure. College students studying history or political science are particularly encouraged to attend.

The April 13 conference begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Lincoln Presidential Library, 112 N. Sixth St. in Springfield, and includes lunch in the library atrium.

Tickets are $50. Students with proper identification can attend free of charge, not including lunch. To buy tickets, visit

"So many of Kerner's achievements in multiple areas -- mental health, school reform and especially civil rights -- broke new ground and bettered people's lives. We need to understand both his failures and his achievements," said Eileen Mackevich, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. f

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Kerner was a Chicago Democrat who won his first term in 1960. As governor, he modernized state services for the mentally ill and backed a statewide system of community colleges.

His name became a household word after President Lyndon Johnson chose him to lead the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders -- known everywhere as the Kerner Commission. The panel examined the riots flaring up in African-American neighborhoods across the country, and it concluded that segregation and lack of economic opportunity were driving the nation "toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal."

Kerner left the governor's office soon after the report's release and was appointed to the federal bench. But his time as a judge was cut short by accusations that, as governor, he had accepted bribes in exchange for granting favorable racing dates for an Arlington Heights track.

He was convicted in 1973 for mail fraud, conspiracy, perjury and more. Today, however, doubts remain about the case against him and the legal theory underlying the charges.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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