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Otto Kerner, Jr.

Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr.

  • January 9, 1961 - May 21, 1968
  • Democrat
  • August 5, 1908
  • May 9, 1976
  • Illinois
  • Brown University,Trinity College at Cambridge University, Northwestern University School of Law
  • Married: Helena Cermak, two children
  • Resigned
  • National Guard
  • Solider's Medal, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Ribbon


OTTO KERNER, JR. 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, rising to the rank of captain by 1941. In March 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt called up the National Guard, and Kerner was transferred to the Thirty-third Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, he was transferred to the Ninth Infantry Division and was promoted to major; he underwent training for field artillery and returned to action. He was in active service from 1941-46, in both the European and Pacific theaters. Kerner retired from service in 1954 as Major General and was decorated with a 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. 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

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