Will he be remember as a Racist? KKK Member? Esteemed Senator that brought home the bacon for his state?
Democrat (remember, the Democrats were the traditional and historic “Slave Party”) Senator Robert Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942 at the age of 24. He quickly ran through the ranks and became the head of his chapter. (Source). And he was devoted. Byrd wrote a letter to the KKK Grand Wizard after World War 2, “The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.” After all, Black Americans had served bravely in the war and returned home with some hope for the future. They had served their country, surely Whites would recognize this? This was not to be as Byrd and his KKK friends would make sure Black’s knew their place. Blacks found little had changed. [An over simplification? YES, but it fits in perfect with how the Press is covering Byrd's past!]
Byrd was a master politician and climbed through the ranks in politics as well. He ascended the political hierarchy through the West Virginia state legislature until becoming a United States Senator for West Virginia in 1959 after serving 6 years in the House of Representatives. In 1999, Byrd became the first politician in the history to secure over $1 billion in federal taxpayer dollars for his state. No wonder his constituents loved him and continued to vote him back into office.
But his voting record, though long (14,000 or so), includes him being a staunch opponent of Civil Rights. Byrd vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he filibustered it for almost three months. He also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and when combined with his KKK associations, it is a wonder that none other than the NAACP can recall his service fondly. On Monday the organization released a statement from NAACP President and Chief Executive Benjamin Todd Jealous claiming that Byrd’s life “reflects the transformative power of this nation.” (Source)
The question also has to be asked, can only a Democrat be reborn, transformed and forgiven?
The USA Today whitewashed (downplays) Byrd’s racist past and then builds him up, “The honor is symbolic of how far Byrd came in the course of his long public career. Once a member of the Ku Klux Klan — an episode for which he profusely apologized — he endorsed the nation’s first African-American president and provided staunch support for Obama’s agenda on Capitol hill.” (Source)
The Associate Press simply noted, “The man who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 hours came to support the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday and supported Barack Obama in his bid to become the nation’s first black president.” (Source)
Another news organization, wrote, astonishingly, “Once a segregationist and a member of a white supremacist group (the Ku Klux Klan), Byrd evolved into an advocate for civil rights. He later apologized for his earlier positions on racial matters.” (Source)
I will add that I did like that the Good Senator was, for the most part, a man of the Constitution. And as one journalist noted, “He frequently pulled out a dog-eared copy of it from a pocket in one of his trademark three-piece suits. He also defended the Senate in its age-old rivalry with the executive branch, no matter which party held the White House.” (Source)
So what will it be? How will history remember the man? If today’s Press has its way, he will be very positively remembered. I wonder what future text books will say?