Robert Carlyle Byrd was born in North Carolina in 1917. After his mother’s death the following year, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle and raised in West Virginia.
In 1942, at the age of 24, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, where, according to Byrd, his felicity for bureaucratic politics was discovered. But by the early ’50s, Byrd announced he was no longer a dues-paying member.
Frederick Lewis Allen on the 20th-century rebirth of the Klan:
At first, in the South, white supremacy was the Klan’s chief objective, but as time went on and the organization grew and spread, opposition to the Jew and above all the Catholic proved best talking points for Kleagles in most localities. (Only Yesterday (New York: Perennial Classics, 2000), 58)
Remember that back in the day, “Catholic” was shorthand for Italians, Irish, Hispanics, and Poles. In other words: immigrants. Further, the KKK, just like Hitler, conflated “Judaism” with “Communism.”
R.A. Patton, writing in Current History, reported a grim series of brutalities from Alabama: “A lad whipped with branches until his back was ribboned flesh; a Negress beaten and left helpless to contract pneumonia from exposure and die; a white girl, divorcee, beaten into unconsciousness in her own home; a naturalized foreigner flogged until his back was a pulp because he married an American woman; a Negro lashed until he sold his land to a white man for a fraction of its value.” (Ibid., 59)
Byrd and 18 other senators (17 of them Democrats) filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a bill introduced by fellow Democrat John F. Kennedy, shepherded through the House and Senate by Democrats, and eventually signed into law by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. Byrd also voted against the Voting Rights Act the following year, though he did vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Byrd also voted against the nominations of Thurgood Marshall (appointed by Johnson) in 1967 and Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H. W. Bush) in 1991. These men are the only two African-Americans to ever sit on the Supreme Court. Byrd was age 49 at the time of the first vote; 74 at the time of the second.
So in most of these negative votes, Byrd voted against his fellow Democrats. He wasn’t toeing a partisan line, but instead was motivated by something else.
But he changed, say his supporters! Byrd wasn’t a racist! He apologized, disavowing his previous prejudices and actions.
In 1982, Byrd’s grandson died, which apparently provoked a crisis of conscience in the 64-year-old senator. Byrd, when asked in a C-SPAN interview what vote he would change if he could, replied that he would switch his vote on Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act. He explained:
I lost a grandson in 1982. Fine-looking young man. Six-feet five, three hundred pounds, seventeen years old. Loved the outdoors. I lost him. He died in a truck crash. I won’t go through all the deep valleys that I tread during the following two years. I was majority leader then, I believe, at that time, which did take my mind away from that great tragedy to some extent. Anyhow, it came to my mind at that time how I loved this grandson. And it also came to my mind that black people love their grandsons too. And I, the more I thought about it, I thought, Well now, suppose I were black and my grandson and I were out on the highways in the mid-hours, the wee hours of the morning or midnight, and I stopped at a place to get that little grandson a glass of water or to have it go to the restroom, and there’s a sign, Whites Only. Black people love their grandsons as much as I love mine, and that’s just not right. And so we, who like myself were born in a Southern environment, grew up with Southern people, knew their feelings about the Civil War and all these things, I thought, My goodness, we ought to get ahead of the curve really, not have the law force us to do it, we ought to take down those signs. Well, that is what made me come to the conclusion that if I had to do it over again, I’d vote against that. I’d vote against that law.
Byrd realized black people love their grandsons too. In 1982. At age 64.
Today the lilies of the Internet and the MSM bloom with memorials and eulogies to Robert Byrd. He was the longest-serving senator ever! He wrote a four-volume history of the Senate! He voted against the Iraq war! Byrd was also a hillbilly racist elected to the House and later the Senate in the 1950s by capitalizing on bigotry and kept there, in part, by the same. Only decades later, when his views became untenable to his comfortable lifestyle, did he claim to abandon them. In his prime, Byrd would have loathed me, my family, and just about everybody I know based on our ethnicities and/or religions. And today I’m supposed to feel reverence or get dewy-eyed for this POS?
Passage from the C-SPAN interview is my transcription. Byrd’s response begins around the 18:00 mark of part 2.