Otto Kerner

Gov. Otto Kerner


January 9, 1961 - May 21, 1968

August 5, 1908

May 9, 1976


Brown University,Trinity College at Cambridge University, Northwestern University School of Law


Birth State


Married; two children

Military Service:
Bronze Star


OTTO KERNER was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 15, 1908. He received a B.A. from Brown University in 1930, and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law in 1934. He also attended Trinity College at Cambridge University in England from 1930 to 1931. He enlisted in the National Guard in 1934, and transferred to the F.A. in 1936. He was in active service from 1941-46, in both the European and Pacific theaters. Retired from service in 1954 as Major General, Kerner was decorated with Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star and Army Commendation Ribbon. As U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1947 to 1954 and as a Cook County judge from 1955 to 1960, Kerner reformed Illinois adoption procedures. Elected for two terms as governor in 1960 and 1964, he promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. During his tenure, Governor Kerner served on the National Governors’ Conference Executive Committee from 1967 to 1968, and he chaired the Midwestern Governors’ Conference that same year. Kerner was named a federal appeals court judge in 1968 and held the post until he resigned in 1974. Kerner achieved national fame as chair of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission), which remains a milestone in America’s struggle for racial harmony. An eloquent prophet of the grave consequences of racism in America’s cities, Kerner articulated the commission’s principal finding that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal. His achievements were eclipsed by his conviction on federal charges of mail fraud, bribery, perjury, and income tax evasion tied to his dealings in stock of an Illinois racetrack operator, and he served time in a federal prison. He was released from prison early because he was discovered to be terminally ill with cancer. He died on May 9, 1976, and due to his military service in World War II, was buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery.


Governors of the American States, Commonwealths, and Territories, National Governors' Conference, 1967.

University of Illinois Press