Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Robert Byrd Dead at 92

D-West Virginia

By Jon E. Easter

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia has died at the age of 92.

The longest serving member of Congress in history was serving his ninth term in the Senate when he fell ill and was hospitalized. His condition was reported as grave, and this morning, he is gone. It's another blow to the Democratic Senatorial Caucus who lost Ted Kennedy last year. Like Kennedy, Byrd's record and legacy is one of tremendous public service tinged with a hint of controversy.

At the time of his death, Byrd had served over 60 years in public office between the West Virginia legislature and the federal legislature. In that 60 years, he worked to get a college degree and a law degree, and his personal views on race made a complete 180. Byrd's conflicted record on race included votes against the Civil Rights Act and Justice Thurgood Marshall's confirmation. Byrd was never able to live down his membership in the Ku Klux Klan as a young man and some comments he made in a letter to a Senator from West Virginia. In more recent years, he renounced his 1940's membership in the Ku Klux Klan and apologized for it over and over again calling it a mistake. Byrd also said he regretted those votes against Marshall and the Civil Rights Act (which he personally filibustered) and wished he could go back and change them.

"I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times, and I don't mind apologizing over and over," said Byrd in one of his memoirs. "I can't erase what happened."

Byrd also worked hard for his constituents who rewarded him with an undefeated electoral record. Conservatives decry his record of bringing back billions of dollars in federal funding to one of the poorest states in the union. An amazing orator, a walking Senate history book, and a living relic from a different time in politics, Robert Byrd served the state he loved with distinction.

Byrd, I think, summed up his Senate career as well as I can in his memoirs, "I grew up in a state where we didn't have much hope. I wanted to help my people and give them hope. . . . I'm just proud that the people of West Virginia accepted me as I was and helped me along the way."

Byrd on the Senate

He was quite an accomplished fiddler and musician. Here's a sampling of the Senator's work.

And, finally, Senator Byrd on the Constitution.

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