PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — The Pekin Marigold Festival makes its debut today, honoring a legendary politician from Pekin who made multiple bids for the marigold to be the national flower.

Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen of Pekin served as Senate Minority Leader in Congress during the Civil Rights Movement.

“He was not just important to Pekin, but he was important to the entire state of Illinois and the entire country… There are a number of people who may not realize that we have that important of a legacy that’s homegrown,” said Tiffany White, executive director of Dirksen Congressional Center, an educational and research institution.

White said Dirksen championed many of the rights Americans enjoyed today. He was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“He served throughout one of the most influential periods of US history. A lot was going on in mid-century America, and he was instrumental in a lot of those big changes taking place,” she said.

The Dirksen Congressional Center is showcasing the senator’s legacy at the 50th annual Pekin Marigold Festival.

“The community can come in and take a look at and learn a little bit more about Senator Dirksen’s history, both his early days growing up here and how that helped form him into who he was, and some of the notable pieces of his own history, from the Civil Rights Act, to the marigold, to winning a Grammy in 1967,” said Chris Kaergard, communications director and associate historian at Dirksen Congressional Center.

Dirksen lobbied for the marigold to be the national flower, but lost out to the rose.

“The marigold was truly an American flower. It was hardy and it would survive all conditions, and could be grown all across the continental US,” said Kaergard.

Dirksen was known for working across the aisle to get important legislation across the finish line.

“A willingness to engage with their political opponents, to view them as opponents rather than enemies, and to work towards finding a solution focusing on the elements which they can agree, and building on those to reach something that is workable, implementable, and can change lives,” said Kaergard.

“Everybody really just admired him, regardless of which side of the aisle they sat on or what kind of community they grew up in. I think that’s rare today,” said White.