Senator Robert Byrd (D–W.Va.), who died this morning at 92, was born before Commonweal existed. But the earliest mention I could find of Sen. Byrd in our pages was a brief item in a “News and Views” roundup by John Deedy in the April 26, 1968, issue:
It is the type [of] comment to haunt the sensitive man to his grave, but perhaps not Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
Taking the Senate floor after the March 28 rioting in Memphis, Senator Byrd addressed himself to Martin Luther King and the Poor People’s Campaign which Dr. King was to lead in Washington: “If this self-seeking rabble rouser is allowed to go through with his plans here, Washington may well be treated to the same kind of violence, destruction, looting and bloodshed” as Memphis.
Or, if you prefer, Senator Allen Ellender of Louisiana.
Asked during a radio interview what he thought of the assassination April 4 of Dr. King, Ellender snapped, “I’m not surprised.” Asked if he thought Dr. King’s death would mean passage by Congress of the pending civil rights bill, Ellender sighed. “I hope not. I hope not.”
There is no getting around Byrd’s racist past in accounting for his life in politics. His membership in the Ku Klux Klan, and opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are the items most often mentioned. Neither those choices nor his badly timed attack on Dr. King ended his career in the Senate, and his name appeared in Commonweal from time to time in connection with his role as majority (and then minority) leader in the Senate and as head of the appropriations committee. Read the rest of this entry »