Byrd: An American Life
Tomorrow, he turns 92 after passing another milestone as the longest-serving member of Congress in history, almost 57 years.
With such longevity, Sen. Robert Byrd embodies almost a century of American history that transformed a nation of backwaters dotted by big cities into a metropolitan sprawl with access to 24/7 knowledge about the whole world.
Byrd, a self-made man if there ever was one, started as a gas jockey and butcher in West Virginia during World War II, who discovered a taste and talent for politics by joining the Ku Klux Klan at the age of 24 and rising to the position of Exalted Cyclops.
His worldview then is reflected in a 1944 letter: “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.”
Jump-cut to May 2008, and here is Sen. Robert Byrd endorsing an African-American candidate as “a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history. Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support.”
In his journey from benighted to Obama, Byrd’s finest hour came on the eve of the Iraq invasion in 2002.