Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) Longest Serving Senator Dies at 92

Robert Byrd, the long time senator from West Virginia has died was 92. Senator Byrd was a firebrand conservative who opposed the War in Iraq and in his earlier day as a member of the Ku Klux Klan who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. From the Charleston Gazette:

“I am saddened that the family of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., tearfully announces the passing” of the senator, Jesse Jacobs, Byrd’s press spokesman, said in a statement.

Byrd died at 3 a.m. at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., according to the statement.

Byrd was hospitalized over the weekend with dehydration and heat exhaustion. An announcement on Sunday said the senator “seriously ill.”

Byrd will best know for jobs (or pork projects) and the millions of dollars that he brought to the Mountaineer state; roads, bridges, government buildings were named after him.  Byrd nickname the Prince of Pork by his critics. He wore the phrase as a badge of honor:

Now, dozens of projects bear the senator’s name: the Green Bank radio telescope, the federal courthouses in Charleston and Beckley, the locks on the Ohio River at Gallipolis Ferry, a Clarksburg high school and numerous streets, libraries, health clinics, college departments — a seemingly unending list. There’s the Robert C. Byrd Freeway (Corridor G) and the Robert C. Byrd Highway (Corridor H), both part of the Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System.

Byrd was election first to the House of Representatives in 1952 as a Dixiecrat by in 1958 he ran won election to the US Senate. Byrd never lost an election to national office.

Byrd held a variety of leadership posts: Senate Majority Whip, and  Majority Leader in the 1970’s Minority leader from 1981-1987. In 1989 he was named Appropriations Committee. It was then  Byrd brought pork projects back to  West Virginia in earnest in 1991 when the FBI fingerprint Processing center was selected for Clarksburg, W.VA.

Byrd took the title  Prince of Pork in stride and humor:

As he said in 2000, “West Virginia has always had four friends: God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, Carter’s Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd.”

Byrd had a racist past:

Byrd’s political career was also dogged by his early membership in the Ku Klux Klan, which he said he joined mostly because of its anti-communist position and the political connections he could make there. But in a 1945 letter to a segregationist U.S. senator, Byrd wrote that he would never fight in the armed forces alongside blacks, and said he never wanted to “see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels.”

In 1964, Byrd filibustered against the landmark Civil Rights Act for more than 14 hours and voted against it. Forty years later, he said that was the one vote of his congressional career that he regretted most.

In his autobiography, Byrd wrote of his membership in the KKK: “It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.”

Indeed, Byrd could not fully escape his racist past. In his 1982 campaign, his opponent’s supporters presented Byrd with a Klan robe at a rally.

As late as 2001, Byrd used the phrase “white niggers” in a nationally televised interview. He later apologized and said, “The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’s society.”

Byrd is survived by his daughters  and sons-in-laws Mona and Mohammad Fatemi and Marjorie and Jon Moore. Five grandchildren: Erik Fatemi, Darius Fatemi, Fredrik Fatemi, Mona Pearson and Mary Anne Clarkson and seven grand children.

Charleston W.VA Gazette looks at the life of Senator Robert Byrd.

My condolences to the Byrd family.

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