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Saying Goodbye To A Racist -- The Passing Of Senator Robert Byrd

No warm platitudes here over the passing of one of the most loathesome figures to walk the halls of the U.S. Senate in the last half century.

There's not much worse in society than joining a group whose purpose is to hate others based on the color of their skin, or the god they choose to worship.


In the early 1940s, a politically ambitious butcher from West Virginia named Bob Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the "Grand Dragon" for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter.

As Byrd recalls now, the Klan official, Joel L. Baskin of Arlington, Va., was so impressed with the young Byrd's organizational skills that he urged him to go into politics. "The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation," Baskin said.

The young Klan leader went on to become one of the most powerful and enduring figures in modern Senate history. Throughout a half-century on Capitol Hill, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) has twice held the premier leadership post in the Senate, helped win ratification of the Panama Canal treaty, squeezed billions from federal coffers to aid his home state, and won praise from liberals for his opposition to the war in Iraq and his defense of minority party rights in the Senate.

Despite his many achievements, however, the venerated Byrd has never been able to fully erase the stain of his association with one of the most reviled hate groups in the nation's history.

"It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career, and reputation," Byrd wrote in a new memoir -- "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields" -- that will be published tomorrow by West Virginia University Press.

The 770-page book is the latest in a long series of attempts by the 87-year-old Democratic patriarch to try to explain an event early in his life that threatens to define him nearly as much as his achievements in the Senate. In it, Byrd says he viewed the Klan as a useful platform from which to launch his political career. He described it essentially as a fraternal group of elites -- doctors, lawyers, clergy, judges and other "upstanding people" who at no time engaged in or preached violence against blacks, Jews or Catholics, who historically were targets of the Klan.


Despite his successful political track record, the Senate's senior Democrat was no stranger to controversy, and was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Byrd said he joined the white supremacist group in 1942 because it "offered excitement." He claimed the Klan was an "effective force" in "promoting traditional American values" and "was strongly opposed to communism."

Byrd reportedly ended his ties with the group in 1943, telling the Washington Post in June 1993 that his stint in the KKK was the mistake in his life that he most regretted.

"Just as a lot of young people these days join organizations they regret joining, I joined as a youth and regretted it later," he said. "I made a mistake."

But West Virginia Republicans uncovered a letter Byrd had written to the imperial wizard of the KKK three years after he said he abandoned the group. In the letter, he wrote: "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 Union."




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Reader Comments (3)

West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) has announced that there will not be an election for the Senate seat formerly held by the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd until 2012 -- with Gov. Joe Manchin (D) set to make an appointment to serve until that time.

Jun 29, 2010 at 4:13 AM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
How can these thugs do this?

Jun 29, 2010 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterKen
I particularly love Byrd,s statement saying he and his buddies NEVER!! spoke out against blacks and Jews!!!! Lol sure he and his merry band of racist low life's typically got together and played Yahtzee and other games like hang that nigger and burn that Jew.Byrd only regrets joining because it destroyed his dreams of living in a house appropriately named for him the White House.
Jul 13, 2016 at 6:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

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