Sunday, June 19, 2005

Senator Byrd and the KKK

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has written a memoir, to be published on June 20. He had little choice but to address his history with the Ku Klux Klan, although he tried to gloss over that part of his life.

A Washington Post story today presents an apparently even-handed analysis of what Byrd says in the book about his involvement in the KKK and the truth, much of which varies from Byrd's account.

I knew that Byrd held the title of "Kleagle" as an organizer and recruiter for the KKK. I didn't know that he organized a 150-man Klan unit from scratch and was unanimously elected as leader, the "Exalted Cyclops." I knew he was in the Klan for a year or two, based on his own admissions. I didn't know that he was a member quite a bit longer and was very active.

I knew about his active opposition to civil rights for African Americans well into his Senate career. I didn't know about some things that clearly illustrated the depth of his racism.

For example, a letter he wrote in 1945 to the notorious segregationist, Democratic Senator Theodore Bilbo, gave his reaction to a book about the military service of blacks and the Truman Administration's efforts to integrate the military. Byrd wrote that he would never fight in the armed forces "with a Negro by my side." He went on:

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.

Byrd was in his twenties during World War II but didn't serve in the military, saving him from the awful prospect of serving "with a Negro by my side." His official Senate biography brushes past his lack of military service, giving no reason. I searched a large number of other biographical sources and didn't find the answer. Maybe there was a good reason. But the fact remains, while millions of other men his age were defending our country during World War II, Byrd's service was to the Ku Klux Klan. Instead of being a sergeant or a captain, he was a Kleagle and an Exalted Cyclops.

According to the Washington Post, Byrd says in the book that

...he viewed the Klan as a useful platform from which to launch his political career. He described it essentially as a fraternal group of elites -- doctors, lawyers, clergy, judges and other "upstanding people" who at no time engaged in or preached violence against blacks, Jews or Catholics, who historically were targets of the Klan.

However, as the Post points out,

By the time Byrd began organizing for the Klan during World War II, the organization had largely morphed into a money-making fraternal organization that was virulently anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic.

It's ironic that Democrats could have so honored a man like this for so long. They've even repeatedly elected him to Senate leadership positions, including twice as the leader of their Party. These are the same Democrats who claim to be the Party of working people and minorities, the same Democrats who so recently hounded Senator Trent Lott out of his leadership position because of a stupid, off-the-cuff remark with racist implications.

As a kid growing up in the south, I knew about the KKK. It was very secret, of course, and few people knew who was a member. But everyone, white and black, knew what the KKK was and what it did now and then. Also, I often heard that bit about it being just a harmless "fraternal organization." That was crap back then, and it's crap now. If the people of West Virginia want a man like Byrd to represent their state, that's on them. The honors bestowed on him over the years by Democrats in the Senate is a stain on all of us.

Note: You can find details about and a history of the Ku Klux Klan here.


Blogger sygamel said...

But he came clean Tom. Let's give him a break. LOL

4:50 PM, June 19, 2005  
Blogger Brad Todd said...

The Dem's have much to be proud Howie rants about the Republican Party being made up of white Christians..

These are the same clowns that supported slavery many years ago, they seems to lack just a little credibility. What a joke!

4:51 PM, June 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll say it for the Democrats. All the racists joined the GOP!!!! And our have repented!!

5:55 PM, June 19, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Frankly I don't think this post is reasonable, let alone fair.

Trent Lott continues to be supported by his constituents despite his comments at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. Where's your outrage, Tom?

The reality is that, as Scott says, Byrd came clean. His Klan association is long in the past and he has given every indication that he sincerely regrets it.

Further, as a recent background piece I read about that Klansman currently on trial for murder said... the reality is that the Klan was the defacto shadow government in many parts of the South. Literally nothing was enacted by elected officials unless it had the Klan's stamp of approval. Distinctions between R's and D's simply didn't enter into it. The Klan was the shadow government for all, regardless of their political party affiliation. Anyone who wanted to succeed politically had to deal with the Klan... period.

Strom Thurmond was a classic example of this. I listened to a long one-on-one interview with Thurmond's black daughter this past winter. She gave every indication that his public treatment of her and her mother was driven solely by political realities of the South. Privately, she said, she never once detected even a hint of prejudice. In fact she indicated that quite the opposite was true. And the interviewer went out of his way to give her ample opportunity to take a hardline about southern Racism. She refused to rise to the bait.

Lastly, as "anonymous" alludes to... a great many former Southern Dems, with equal connections to racism, have long since jumped ship and joined the GOP. Where is your outrage, Tom?

I can't help but observe that you didn't blog on the recent Senate resolution apologizing for repeatedly blocking repeated House Bills (and repeated Presidential implorement) to stop lynching in the South. Aren't you outraged that all but one of the 20 or so Senators who refused to sign on as cosponsors were Republicans?

The more I read here, the less believable I find your assertion that you are a Democrat. It simply doesn't square with your uneven treatment of Dems and Republicans. You seem to go out of your way to find any excuse to get in a dig at Dems, while you seem to go out of your way to avoid holding GOPers to the same standard.

7:28 PM, June 19, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

Has Robert Byrd ever actually apologized for his Klan involvement? Lott apologized for his racist behavior. He apologized ad nauseum just before he was ousted from his leadership post. I've read and heard of Byrd exlaining, confronting, distancing himself from, and regreting his Klan membership. But has he actually ever said he was sorry for it?

8:09 PM, June 19, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

The reality is that, as Scott says, Byrd came clean.

Kevin I was saying that in jest. Byrd and any other former or current racists walking our country of "freedom" deserve all the censure and condemnation we throw at them. They're all scumbags.

8:36 PM, June 19, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Scott, what kind of country do you think this would be if blacks took a similar attitude to whites? After all, it was vastly more than just Southern Whites holding them down.

Personally I prefer the philosophy of M.L.K. and particularly of Nelson Mandela.

10:21 PM, June 19, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

In reply to one of the above replies, that then means (if Byrd came clean) that if Saddam Hussein came 'clean' (because he is in the process of penning his biography while incarcerated with three meals a day, and free medical) then he ought to be 'given a break' as well.

11:12 PM, June 19, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

Just because MLK helped to create an America that made the behavior and attitudes of people like Byrd and others loathsome doesn't mean such people were forgiven by African-Americans. MLK and Mandela were just human enough not to clamor or impose the same abhorrent laws when they rose to influence; it doesn't at all mean Byrd and others of his stripe were forgiven.

4:43 AM, June 20, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Senator Byrd has apologized, repeatedly. When you offend your spouse, a friend, a member of your family, whatever--a one-to-one apology means something. The current vogue of apologizing to large masses of people, sometimes on behalf of other large masses of people, means little.

In response to Kevin:

I'm not really "outraged" where Byrd is concerned. Seriously disappointed, yes. And I'll agree that I'm more critical of Democrats than Republicans, at least in the past few years. As far as being a Democrat is concerned, that's a squishy concept in our system, given no party cards, dues, qualification tests, etc. However, I've considered myself a Democrat all my life, and the majority of my positions on defining issues are consistent with that, as is my record of voting significantly Democratic. That's all it takes.

One reason I'm more critical of Democrats these days is that I expect more and better of them. Republicans, whether you like them or not, are pretty much what they claim to be. Beyond that, as one who considers himself to be a Democrat and would like to continue doing so, the current direction of the Party is quite discouraging. In particular, I find unacceptable the anti-Americanism, open hatred of the U.S. Government, and at least borderline anti-Semitism evident among some leftist Democrats.

I think Trent Lott deserved a swift kick in the butt for the stupid remark he made. But the hounding he got from Democrats was way beyond the seriousness of his offense. Byrd's offenses against decency and common moral values went far beyond that. Aside from what's discussed in the post, he was using the word "nigger" as recently as 2001 in a TV interview. In general, Byrd's case pushes a lot of my "hot buttons." Among these are racism, anti-Semitism, religous intolerance, dishonesty, and public hypocrisy. In my view, of all the flawed political figures who have survived in office, he's the worst. Beyond that, his colleagues in the Senate have consistently honored him as though he were some paragon of Democractic Party values. I find that offensive.

While we're at it, we could also talk about Ted Kennedy. Take the time to research the Chappaquiddick incident thoroughly, as I have, and you find that he should have been charged with an offense in the death of that girl--something ranging from manslaughter or negligent homicide down to various misdemeanors which would have required at least a few weeks in jail. But he lied and ducked and dodged, used his name and his connections, and walked away from it. I also find his prominent place in the Party offensive.

It doesn't bother me that their states choose to repeatedly send people like Byrd, Lott, Kennedy, and others we might name to Congress. That's their right. How they're received and treated by other members of their party in Congress and at the national level is another matter.

Let's look again at this quote from Byrd's letter:

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.

I find that as deeply offensive as anything I've ever read. No apology or apparent change of heart on the part of the author can excuse it.

You can find my reaction to the idea of a congressional apology for slavery in a comment to Slavery Reparations Scam. I didn't feel moved to write a separate piece on it.

10:10 AM, June 20, 2005  
Blogger John Walter said...

You know, Tom, the comments on your blog here sometimes have a way of illustrating the Democratic dissaray of which you write. You are a Democrat and a liberal. But a lot of liberal true-believers get seriously torqued at you for not towing the radical left party line.

10:37 AM, June 20, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

John, it might surprise you to know that I'm neither a Democrat nor a Liberal. I will cop to being more critical of Republicans, though. And really for pretty much the same reasons Tom articulates for why he's harder on Dems. Except that I come at it from the other side of the aisle as a former Republican.

12:19 PM, June 20, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

As for Lott and Byrd... what I see is Senator Byrd's apologies seeming to be more authentic because there doesn't seem to be any political motivation for them. Whereas Lott's political motivation for apologizing were self-evident.

12:21 PM, June 20, 2005  
Anonymous JadeGold said...

Tsk, tsk, TC.

As you note, Byrd has repeatedly apologized for his Klan past. Whether you think that's enough or not enough is immaterial. You're merely using a past of nearly of half century ago to attack the Dems in service to your political masters.

Far enough, it's the best you can do.

I do find it telling that you find Byrd's words from 50 years ago so offensive but have no comment on these:

"the people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Let's take it in the right direction and our children will be the beneficiaries."

These words were spoken by Trent Lott in a keynote address to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CoCC)". To date, Lott, nor a number of hs GOP cohorts has apologized for their connections and support of this group. In fact, former RNC head, Haley Barbour, has recently appeared before the group.

Still more tellng is the fact the GOP refused to go on the record with the recent Senate Apology WRT lynching. Why? Because about a dozen GOP Senators didn't want to be on the record as supporting that apology. Why? Frankly, in a number of red states, bigotry is seen as an attribute not a disqualifier.

Jesse Helms is thankfully out of office now. But for years, he was a leader in the GOP. Strom Thurmond? Not only a lfelong racist but barely lucid n the past two decades of his life.

Of course, we could always talk about TC's political master, AWOL George. Wasn't it AWOL George's campaign, during the 2000 GOP primaries, that circulated the rumor John McCain had a black daughter? During the same campaign, AWOL George took the time to address Bob Jones Unversity whose odious views include racism.

But, TC is deeply offended by Byrd's associations a half century ago despte the fact he has apologized for and renounced those groups.

12:30 PM, June 20, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Man, I find it fascinating that people want Byrd forgiven so badly. For what it's worth, he apparently still hate Jews. His voting record on Israel is hidious.

7:07 PM, June 21, 2005  

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