Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Monday, June 20, 2005
Byrd's denial.

When I wrote about Jesse Helms last week, I described him as one of the last politicians to apologize for his racist actions before and after the Civil Rights Movement.

Well I was wrong, as there is another senator who is in denial over his past bigoted ways.  Robert Byrd is writing his memoirs, called "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields", in which he discusses his involvement in the Ku Klux Klan:

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.
Thus, Byrd tries to make it seem as if it was just a bunch of successful good ole boys who had a fetish for white sheets and hoods.  It's amazing that even today, with him being a bastion of American leftism, that he cannot be honest about what the Klan was and his activities in it.  To explain it as if it were a local chapter of the chamber of commerce serves as a slap in the face to the many people and families the Klan targeted and terrorized.

While Byrd asked for forgiveness for his involvement in the Klan, his candycoating of his time in it and the people who were with him negates that apology.  What he truly is sorry for is that it became public.  After all, it was the Klan who encouraged him to get involved with politics, and he wrote a letter urging the growth of the Klan the very same year he won his first election as a state representative in 1946. 

Indeed, he has characterized the Klan identity as an "albatross" around his neck, as if it only a mere burden to his political career instead of a legitimate concern to America.  But more than likely, that isn't the case, at least in the early part of it:

Stunned Democratic state party officials, including then-Gov. Okey L. Patteson, urged him to drop out of the race [after the 1946 letter was made public]. Byrd survived the ensuing political firestorm, won the general election and went on to serve six years in the House before winning his Senate seat in 1958. During his Senate campaign, he told a newspaper reporter that he personally felt the Klan had been incorrectly blamed for many acts committed by others.
Is it possible that he gained popularity because of his connections to the Klan?  While I'm not inferring West Virginia was completely racist, it's not hard to believe that 1950's West Virginia would be indifferent to a senator being a former Klansman.  I'm sure people in that area knew several prominent figures - as Byrd said himself - who were involved in the Klan.  Besides, it wasn't like Byrd did anything during the 50's and 60's to prove anyone wrong.

But don't hold your breath for any so-called black leaders or civil rights leaders to call Byrd out for his KKK fence-straddling.  Since he was against the War on Iraq, he's one of them.  Besides, he still wields so much influence in Congress that no politician would dare criticize him.  Maybe if he would have written his memoirs during the impeachment, where he was very critical of Clinton's deeds and the attitude of the Democrats during that time, they would have been more vocal.  And as you probably heard earlier this week, Ralph Nader gets that treatment as well.

UPDATE:  To my knowledge, Byrd never apologized or addressed his obstruction of civil rights legislation.  Does he plan to address that in his book?

Posted at 05:16 am by Expertise



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