Robert Byrd, West Virginia, was the longest serving legislator in the history of the U. S. Congress. He was loved by his constituents but he is not without controvery. In his earlier, pre-Senate days, he briefly belonged to the Klan. He publically admitted his mistake in later years but some Americans have been unforgiving and continually bring up this brief time in his career. It should not be allowed to over-shadow his remarkable career as a statesman.

From the Washington Post:

Starting in 1958, Mr. Byrd was elected to the Senate an unprecedented nine times. He wrote a four-volume history of the body, was majority leader twice and chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee, controlling the nation’s purse strings, and yet the positions of influence he held did not convey the astonishing arc of his life.

A child of the West Virginia coal fields, Mr. Byrd rose from the grinding poverty that has plagued his state since before the Great Depression, overcame an early and ugly association with the Ku Klux Klan, worked his way through night school and by force of will, determination and iron discipline made himself a person of authority and influence in Washington.

Although he mined extraordinary amounts of federal largesse for his perennially impoverished state, his reach extended beyond the bounds of the Mountain State.

As chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the District from 1961 to 1969, he reveled in his role as scourge, grilling city officials at marathon hearings and railing against unemployed black men and unwed mothers on welfare.

He was known for his stentorian orations seasoned with biblical and classical allusions and took pride in being the Senate’s resident constitutional scholar, keeping a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket. He saw himself both as institutional memory and as guardian of the Senate’s prerogatives.

Most West Virginians had more immediate concerns, and Mr. Byrd strove to address them. On the Appropriations Committee, he pumped billions of dollars worth of jobs, programs and projects into a state that ranked near the bottom of nearly every economic indicator when he began his political career as a state legislator in the late 1940s. Countless congressional earmarks later, West Virginia is home to prisons, technology centers, laboratories and Navy and Coast Guard offices (despite being a landlocked state).

Critics mocked him as the “prince of pork,” but West Virginians expressed their gratitude by naming countless roads and buildings after him. He also was the only West Virginian to be elected to both houses of the state legislature and both houses of Congress.

As a young man, Mr. Byrd was an “exalted cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan. Although he apologized numerous times for what he considered a youthful indiscretion, his early votes in Congress — notably a filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act — reflected racially separatist views. As those views moderated, Mr. Byrd rose in the party hierarchy.

A lifelong autodidact and a firm believer in continuing education — vocational schools, community colleges, adult education — Mr. Byrd practiced what he preached. While in the U.S. House from 1953 to 1959, he took night classes at law schools. He received a law degree from American University in 1963 and is the only member of Congress to put himself through law school while in office.

“Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said in a statement. “But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain.”

I have never talked to a West Virginian who didn’t have a special place in his or her heart for Senator Byrd. Senator Byrd never forgot his roots and always took care of his state. I expect West Virginia will be in mourning for a long time.

26 Thoughts to “Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator, Dies at 92”

  1. Rick Bentley

    I come not to praise Byrd.

    The guy’s an icon – but of what? Party politics. legislative exercises that weren’t about doing anything real for America, but only for his constituents or “party” interests.

    He was a career politician that really never did nothing much for nobody, when you break it down. He, like Ted Kennedy, typlifies bluster and cult of personality that is wrapped around – nothing real, nothing good, nothing substantive. Just speeches and endless marketing campaigns.

  2. Vigilant Vulture

    What’s wrong with him working for his constituents, Mr. Bentley? That’s what he was elected to do term after term. Even West Virginian Republicans respect and voted for Senator Byrd.

    I suggest a visit to West Virginia sometime and tell me has done nothing good there.

  3. Rick Bentley

    He’s not someone who ever created wealth. Nor did he create visionary laws. he just helped to spend borrowed money. Most famously, on frivolous things.

  4. Vigilant Vulture

    Many poor people in West Virginia had/have government jobs at the many parks in the state. I’m sure to those that were faced with poverty or a federal job, thought they were wealthy. They had jobs that kept them off of the dole. I would not call employment a frivolous thing.

  5. West Virginians love him. He always looked after his state and never forgot who sent him there. There is something to be said for that. And ….when it is all said and done…maybe that is what really counts….looking out for the little guy.

    The vulture must be a West Virginian because she speaks of the Senator like someone who loves him.

    Besides, when someone dies, sometimes we overlook the things we don’t like.

  6. Rick Bentley

    I know I’m rude … I’m very angry at party politics.

  7. RingDangDoo

    RIP Bobby. The final sheet was placed over your head. 🙂

    Seriously though, and politics aside, Bobby was a good man & husband and never forgot where he came from. I respected him a lot.

  8. And he simply was born in a different time than most of us were. I know the people of West Virginia are in mourning.

  9. kelly3406

    I am not sure that I would agree that he “briefly belonged to the Klan.” According to Wikipedia:

    “West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was a recruiter for the Klan while in his 20s and 30s, rising to the title of Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops of his local chapter. After leaving the group, Byrd spoke in favor of the Klan during his early political career. Though he claimed to have left the organization in 1943, Byrd wrote a letter in 1946 to the group’s Imperial Wizard stating “The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.” Byrd defended the Klan in his 1958 U.S. Senate campaign when he was 41 years old.[9]”

    If Wikipedia is correct, I am not sure that it is accurate to call this a “brief time in his career.” He was a good husband and father, but let’s not gloss over the historical record.

  10. Lafayette

    Moon-howler :And he simply was born in a different time than most of us were. I know the people of West Virginia are in mourning.

    I have a living grandmother that’s 91 and even older family members, and people do need to remember that they born in much different time.

    I will add that the people of WVa. are indeed in mourning. I will be in WVa. this weekend for a family reunion of “rabid Republicans” and they have always been fans of Senator Byrd. I dread seeing a state that’s like home to me in mourning. As the vulture mentioned the jobs that have been created in the state alone are worthy of noting. My dad’s from a county that over 50% owned by the National Park Service. I can’t tell you what the NPS and the Navy means to those in that county.. They have some the state’s most well known natural land marks and have made them into parks, camp grounds, trails, etc. Those areas are preserved and provide a very good life to many that would probably be hungry and homeless due to the lack of employment.

    I understand and share your anger about the party politics. However, the good people of WVa. see Senator Byrd a lot differently than you do.

  11. He lived in the age where belonging to the KKK didn’t carry the same social stigma as it does now. That is just the reality.

    I have a picture of Robert E. Lee in my living room. It was given to me by one of my very dear yankee friends. Maybe I will be judged by that some day. When I am dead and gone who cares.

  12. The man, to my knowledge, had no love children, didn’t leave his wife for some bimbo when she had terminal cancer, treated his political enemies well had a drink with them at the end of the day. He never forgot his roots and I have never known of a single story about him where he mistreated or was disrespectful to someone of another race.

    I am not a West Virginian. I am an honorary one through friendships. That honor tells me that I have to be a West Virginian to ‘understand.’ WV has its own economics, its own political system and you don’t mess with Senator Byrd.

  13. punchak

    I don’t understand these gripes about Byrd bringing “bacon” to his beloved WV. Seems to me that being able to get jobs for one’s constituents should be considered a good deed. My gosh, how many others on the Hill haven’t done the same and, maybe, to a much larger degree. Isn’t it a lot better to have people working, even if it is a government job, than having people on welfare and not paying taxes?

    I saw senator Byrd in Anchorage, Alaska in 1973, entertaining with his fiddle at a fund raising event for Willie Hensley, the first native Alaskan to run for Congress (he lost).

    A definite plus for Byrd was his vote against the Iraq war.

  14. Lafayette

    Wow!! You actually saw him play live. I’m jealous.

    Another thing that’s been overlooked here are the many road improvements to the state. I’m very grateful for one stretch of my trip “home” that has been shortened by 45 minutes due to major road/highway improvements. They had signs all up along the road as improvements were being done with $$ that the project cost. The bridges in the state that I’ve seen sure don’t seem to be in ill-repair like many in other states. I have a picture that hangs in my living room from the WVa. Highway Dept as Route 33 was being built, and the valley looks the same, but the road is much wider with turnouts for slower traffic. Once upon a time every bridge in WVa. was painted blue.

  15. Several people who have not gotten through on this blog have tried to post some really nasty stuff. (not regulars) I am just not letting it through. It is one thing to discuss his political past. These comments were just crappy. I believe in being respectful of the dead, at least until they are cold. Let’s set the rule to ‘until they are buried.’ Then you can have at it. I am still not letting the hound dogs in. I never promised I wouldn’t censor.

    Out of respect to those from West Virginia, I am asking for a moritorium on crappy remarks.

  16. PWC Taxpayer

    Byrd’s relationship with the Clan is now between him and God – who knows what was in his heart – be it true redemption or political conveniance – and admittedly I suspect more of the latter.

    The issue for me is the failure of the seniority system and the related power of the earmarking system that stole from other areas of the county to the benefit the W. VA. without regard to merit.

  17. Wolverine

    Ah, well, he had a long run; and I would say that West Virginians appreciated his efforts on their behalf. We used to have a joke around here. That cloud of dust you saw in the distance on Route 7 was Sen. Byrd headed to West Virginia in his limo carrying a big bag of our Loudoun County federal tax dollars. This I will say: Thanks, Sen, Byrd, for that four-lane divided highway through the mountains between Parkersburg and Clarksburg. Not much traffic on it, but it sure did make travel west a lot easier.

  18. Any time I got bitter, I thought about how much easier it was to get other places west…you are right Wolverine.

    Systemically, I think the biggest problem we need to look at is this President Pro Tempore issue. There need to be some age and health limits. Before his death, Robert Byrd was third in line for the Presidency. He was too disabled to serve. What would have happened, God forbid, if there were some national catastrophe where the President and the Vice President were out of commission, dead, seriously injured.

    That is rather scary. I mean no disrespect. Senator Byrd simply wasn’t able to assume that job.

  19. Censored bybvbl

    Robert Byrd served West Virginia well as I’m sure we Virginians hope that our Senators serve us well (and you’ve got to admit Virginia gets plenty of money from the federal coffers).

    His membership in the Klan is usually the first thing opponents mention. It was a half century ago and in a hopefully different South. I have pictures of the Klan in rural Georgia in the 1950s in my darkroom – some showing young children in robes. I’ve not published them because I don’t know that those people -particularly the children in the photos – are still affiliated with the Klan and I won’t tar them with that brush despite the fact that I have their names.

  20. Can you pixilate their faces?

  21. Vigilant Vulture

    That clown Glenn Beck just gave his lame a$$ thoughts on Senator Byrd. The focus was the Senator’s role in the Klan. Typical behavior for that recovering alcoholic that seems to be on a “dry drunk” daily.

    1. The one that had all the misinformation? @Vigilant

      There will be time to dishonor Senator Byrd after he is buried. Can’t his state even burying him before the anti-Democrats come out and start the trash?

      I found his remarks to be in very bad taste. You would have thought Al Capone had just died. Or Charlie Manson.

      Glenn Beck needs to work on at least looking like he wasn’t raised in a barn.

  22. Vigilant Vulture

    The very one!

  23. When is the funeral and is he lying in state?

  24. PWC Taxpayer

    Democrats have given another Democrat a pass that would be unthinkable to a Republican – and you take aim at the republican response — wow!. The Great Cyklops is lying in state in the Senate with flags at half mast. What was that about confederate day… that was wrong in Virginia???

  25. Actually, no one is giving anyone a pass. He was a 92 year old man. He was born in another era. He was born in a state that has a rather strange relationship with the klan that might be based on things that might not be understood by people who aren’t from West Virginia.

    It was a sliver of his life. Be respectful.
    TP, I doubt that you or I would understand reverence West Virginians feel for Senator Byrd. We don’t need to understand. We just need to be respectful while they and those who knew and loved him mourn.

    If you think this post has a thing to do with Confederate Day, you are so way off the mark. West Virginia was not even a confederate state, even though it had many people fighing for the south.

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