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June 11, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Michael C. Kerr

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

Coming from Southern Indiana during the time immediately following the Civil War, Kerr did display an intense racial bias. Against black suffrage and the amendments granting such rights, the Indiana congressman made inflammatory statements against people of color, warning against “mongrel schools” and forced association. In his 1998 book “The Smart Culture: Society, Intelligence and Law,” Robert L. Hayman quoted Kerr as having said, “Is it statesmanship to introduce into the body of electors, the governing and law making classes, the most inferior, ignorant, and corruptible races on earth?”

Despite his racial intolerance, Kerr continued to advance his career in politics through hard work, honesty and trust. In 1874, his congressional allies elected him U.S. Speaker of the House. Undertaking the requirements of the new role weighed on the New Albanian. His health had begun to decline during this time, as evident by reports from his peers. Throughout the legislative session, Kerr visibly deteriorated to the point he needed to take some time to recuperate. After only serving one term as speaker, he died shortly after the session ended. 

During the memorial addresses on Capitol Hill, fellow Indiana Congressman William Holman eulogized Kerr and noted his achievements as well as his legacy. 

“Michael C. Kerr is dead. The record of a good life is complete,” Holman said. “May that record perpetuate his virtues and services he has rendered to his country as long as time shall endure.” 

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