• Sen. Robert Byrd Is Having a Complicated History of Race Relations with the Angels Now

    Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) — who, after 51 years, is the longest serving Senator in U.S. history — died last night at the age of 92.

    Why must God take them so young?

    Mr. Byrd's perspective on the world changed over the years. He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War only to come to back civil rights measures and criticize the Iraq war. Rating his voting record in 1964, Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal lobbying group, found that his views and the organization’s were aligned only 16 percent of the time. In 2005, he got an A.D.A. rating of 95.

    Mr. Byrd’s political life could be traced to his early involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, an association that almost thwarted his career and clouded it intermittently for years afterward… Mr. Byrd insisted that his klavern had never conducted white-supremacist marches or engaged in racial violence. He said in his autobiography that he had joined the Klan because he shared its anti-Communist creed and wanted to be associated with the leading people in his part of West Virginia. He conceded, however, that he also "reflected the fears and prejudices" of the time.

    His opponents used his Klan membership against him during his first run for the House of Representatives in 1952; Democratic leaders urged him to drop out of the race. But he stayed in and won, then spent decades apologizing for what he called a "sad mistake."

    Hey, look, I don't mean to be controversial or anything, but I'm not a huge fan of the Ku Klux Klan or the white supremacist movement or  racism in general. I'm sorry, it's just the way I was brought up. That said, I feel like being a West Virginian bigot and joining the Klan back in the '40s was probably just being a West Virginian back in the '40s. You probably walked out your front door, tripped over a twig and landed in the Klan.

    One thing that I liked about Byrd was that he served as a living fossil of what the Democratic Party used to be. A constant reminder that, at one time in the not-so-distant past, they were the party of institutionalized racism.

    Now that he's gone, I guess we'll just have to count on Mississippi Republican House candidate Bill Marcy to remind us.

    Tags: Civil Rights, House of Representatives, Ku Klux Klan, Racism, Robert Byrd, Senate, West Virginia


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