Sen. Robert Byrd, a one time Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan chapter he started in West Virginia, died last week at the age of 92. First elected to the Senate in 1958, he was in the middle of his ninth term and was the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. He has been hailed widely as the Senate’s “respected” historian and a master of parliamentary procedure. Pork was his specialty, and numerous public works and buildings in West Virginia bear his name at the expense of the American taxpayer.
Bill Clinton argued in his eulogy that the ends justify the means: Byrd “once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan,” merely because “he was trying to get elected.” That’s a backhanded compliment if ever there was one. While many editorialists want to consider Byrd’s Klan days as “fleeting,” his racist views lived on for many years. He was the only senator to vote against Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, and he personally filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 straight hours in an attempt to keep it from passing.
If the real Robert Byrd were as colorblind as the media wants us to believe he was, his memory might just deserve more reflection. To this point, one need only compare the media’s largely laudatory coverage of Byrd’s career to its highly critical remembrance of long-serving South Carolina Republican and former Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, who died in 2003 at age 100.