Robert Byrd is a member of the United States senate. He’s pretty notable, and not just because he was born in 1917 and is still alive. Serving since 1953, Byrd is the longest serving senator in history. Byrd has also been Dean of the Senate since 2003. In 1942, he was part of the Ku Klux Klan.
What? Oh, that KKK thing. You know, just your average senator with a background in one of the most infamous hate groups in America. But he did vote against the Iraq war in 2003. Hah.
Hmm. A bit troubling, right? But I want to dissect this whole former KKK/current senator thing without jumping in and claiming he’s a racist white guy – I mean, anymore at least.
According to a bipartisan biography by Robert W. Lee, Byrd said during his senate campaign that “after about a year [in the Klan], I became disinterested, quit paying my dues and dropped my membership in the organization. During the nine years that have followed, I have never been interested in the Klan.”
Based on my experience with ASUCD senators, though, I know that people say things during their campaign that they don’t really mean.
Then in 1944, however, Byrd wrote in a letter to fellow senator Theodore Bilbo (D-Miss.) that he “shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. … Rather, I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
But Byrd said during his 1952 senatorial campaign that he was done with the KKK by mid-1943. Guess not. Strike one, Bryd.
Republicans in West Virginia discovered a letter written by Byrd in 1946 to the “Imperial Wizard of the KKK” (is that, like, the Dumbledore of the Klan world?) that might make you think otherwise.
In this letter, Bryd said, “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.”
1946? Strike two.
Byrd was also the only senator to vote against the nominations of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, the only two black nominees to the Supreme Court in 1967. Marshall was “too liberal” and Thomas – get this, Thomas – was bringing racism to the court.
Honestly, that’s enough of a third strike for me. But is he “outta here?” Au contraire. Remember he’s the longest serving senator in our history.
Racism is a part of American history. No one is going to deny that. Byrd isn’t the only senator who’s been part of the Klan. Edward D. White and Hugo L. Black were, too, and both of them were eventually appointed to the Supreme Court. President Truman was also in the KKK for a couple years.
Slightly less relevant but more recent is President Obama’s (former) reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama’s loyalty, honor and commitment to the country were questioned because of his pastor’s critical comments toward the United States. Obama wasn’t even the one making these comments and his loyalty to the people was questioned. Byrd was part of an organization whose only intention is to keep America “pure” and his actions are brushed off as someone who was lost as an adolescent. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Like Tupac said, “Accept no substitutes / I bring truth to the youth / tear the roof off / the whole school, oh no, I won’t turn the other cheek.”
Speaking of controversial senators, SARA KOHGADAI is voting in the ASUCD elections today. Remember that our campus is diverse and needs senators who represent minority and marginalized groups as well as the majority. Argue with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.