Via the NY Times. The Democratic Senator had represented West Virginia since 1959, marking the longest tenure to date of service in the higher chamber. Between 1952 and 1957, he also served in the House.
However, he’s been something of an embarrassment to non-Virginian Democrats and the Democratically inclined. Byrd started his political career in 1942 as a recruiter for the Klu Klux Klan. At some point between 1946 and 1947, he would write a Grand Wizard, saying
The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.
Decades after the Civil Rights era, Byrd would disown the Klan and publically apologize for his associations. In recent years, he has been given 100 percent scores for his voting record by the NAACP and other African American lobbies. Not knowing Byrd’s heart, I can’t say whether this was resultant of a genuine turn-around or overcompensation for a lingering, secret, and politically inconvenient bigotry.
In any case, the era in which a former KKK Grand Cyclopes can be reelected to the United States Senate for five decades has passed. No matter what Byrd died believing, I count that as progress.