Congress honors racist Byrd

by Jim Longworth

Congress honors racist Byrd

As if the insurance industry’s hijacking of health care reform wasn’t enough to make you sick, there was last week’s spectacle in which Congress honored Sen. Robert Byrd for becoming the nation’s longest-serving lawmaker. Noted politicos paid tribute to and had high praise for the 92-year-old West Virginian, and even issued a special resolution to celebrate his 56 years in Washington.

First of all, I have a problem with anyone serving in Congress for 56 years, not because of age, but because of the abuses which can result. In one twoyear period between 1989 and 1991, Byrd used his chairmanship of a powerful committee to earmark over $1 billion in pet projects for his home state. But my main objection to last week’s festivities is that our federal government took time out from their duties to sing the praises of a racist.

Robert Byrd became a member of the Ku Klux Klan at age 24. Not only that, he was a recruiter (“Kleagle” is the Klan term) who received $10 a head for every new member he found. According to Capitalist magazine, Byrd claimed he joined the Klan because it offered “excitement.” He also praised the KKK as “an effective force” in promoting traditional American values.

Kleagle Byrd claimed that he left the Klan in 1943, but a year later he wrote a letter to Mississippi Sen. Theodore Bilbo in which he made his views known on the subject of integrating the military. Said Byrd, “I 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.” That was followed two years later by a letter he wrote to the Imperial Wizard saying, “The Klan is needed as never before, and I am anxious to see the re-birth here in West Virginia, and in every state in the union.”

But Byrd’s Klan leanings didn’t end there. He went on to oppose Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Over the years, the question of Byrd’s KKK involvement resurfaced periodically, but the mainstream media never seemed to show much interest in bringing him down. Then in 2001, thesenator appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and told Tony Snow, “[T]heproblems of race are behind us. We talk so much about [racism] that wecreate an illusion… there are plenty of white niggers….” Despite thosepatronizing remarks, no one seemed to call for his head on a platter.

Itseems that Washington is full of people who love to turn the othercheek when it comes to a Democrat Klansman, especially when his vote isneeded to pass important legislation.

Whatwe need to remember, however, is that Robert Byrd’s participation inthe KKK can’t be written off as a mere youthful indiscretion. He was agrown man when he joined the Klan, and worked tirelessly on its behalf,eventually rising to the position of Exalted Cyclops. His role in theKlan was not passive; rather he recruited members to help carry out amission of hatred and violence against minorities. No one knows howmany black men were beaten, tortured or lynched by Byrd’s friends anddisciples, but, amazingly, no one seems to care. That’s because littleBobby Byrd has made a point of repeatedly apologizing for his Klan ties.

Accordingto Byrd, he had a racial awakening in 1982 when his grandson was killedin a car accident. Byrd said the tragedy made him realize that blackpeople love their children as much as he does. Well boo friggin’ hoosenator, and thanks for the lesson in sociology. No matter how he saidit, his apologies and revisionist explanations of history never quiterang true, and always came off as contradictory and hollow. But perhapshis most ingenuine mea culpa came in 2005 when Byrd said of his KKK involvements, “I can’t erase what happened.”

Ibeg to differ. Byrd could have stepped down from the Senate as soon ashis past affiliations were made public. Spilled milk. Years later hecould have resigned following one of his many apologies. The fact thathe didn’t is indicative of his hypocrisy and cowardice. Of course onceyou wear a hood, you become expert at masking the truth.

Andthat brings me back to last week’s disgusting display by Byrd’scolleagues on his behalf. Instead of celebrating him, they should havebeen censuring him. Instead of a resolution about his longevity, theyshould have resolved to make reparations for hate crimes againstminorities who never enjoyed longevity thanks to Byrd’s Klan. Butthat’s Washington politics for you. Only Congress would honor a manwith no honor.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.