|Who is it?||Politician|
|Birth Day||November 20, 1917|
|Birth Place||North Wilkesboro, United States|
|Age||103 YEARS OLD|
|Died On||June 28, 2010(2010-06-28) (aged 92)\nMerrifield, Virginia, U.S.|
|Preceded by||Eugene Scott|
|Succeeded by||Jack Nuckols|
|Resting place||Columbia Gardens Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Erma James (m. 1936; d. 2006)|
|Education||Beckley College Concord University University of Charleston Marshall University (BA) George Washington University American University (JD)|
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.— Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944
To help introduce the public to the inner workings of the legislative process, Byrd launched a series of one hundred speeches based on his examination of the Roman Republic and the intent of the Framers. Byrd published a four-volume series on Senate history: The Senate: 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate. The first volume won the Henry Adams Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government as "an outstanding contribution to research in the history of the Federal Government." He also published The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism.
Robert Byrd was born on November 20, 1917 as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Cornelius Calvin Sale Sr. and his wife Ada Mae (Kirby). When he was ten months old, his mother died in the 1918 flu pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father dispersed their children among relatives. Calvin Jr. was adopted by his aunt and uncle, Titus and Vlurma Byrd, who changed his name to Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia.
Byrd was valedictorian of his 1934 graduating class at Mark Twain High School in Tams, West Virginia.
In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Sophia, West Virginia.
In December 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo:
Byrd worked as a gas station attendant, a grocery store clerk, a shipyard welder during World War II, and a butcher before he won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946, representing Raleigh County from 1947 to 1950. Byrd became a local Celebrity after a radio station in Beckley began broadcasting his "fiery fundamentalist lessons." In 1950, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate, where he served from 1951 to 1952.
Byrd served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950, and the West Virginia State Senate from 1950 to 1952. Initially elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952, Byrd served there for six years before being elected to the Senate in 1958. He rose to become one of the Senate's most powerful members, serving as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1967 to 1971 and—after defeating his longtime colleague, Ted Kennedy—as Senate Majority Whip from 1971 to 1977. Over the next three decades, Byrd led the Democratic caucus in numerous roles depending on whether his party held control of the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, President pro tempore of the United States Senate and President pro tempore emeritus. As President pro tempore—a position he held four times in his career—he was third in the line of presidential succession, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
In 1952, Byrd was elected to the United States House of Representatives for West Virginia's 6th congressional district, succeeding E. H. Hedrick, who retired from the House to make an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Byrd was re-elected twice from this district, anchored in Charleston and also including his home in Sophia, serving from January 3, 1953 to January 3, 1959. Byrd defeated Republican incumbent W. Chapman Revercomb for the United States Senate in 1958. Revercomb's record supporting civil rights had become an issue, playing in Byrd's favor. Byrd was re-elected to the Senate eight times. He was West Virginia's junior senator for his first four terms; his colleague from 1959 to 1985 was Jennings Randolph, who had been elected on the same day as Byrd's first election in a special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Matthew Neely.
Byrd initially compiled a mixed record on the subjects of race relations and desegregation. While he initially voted against civil rights legislation, in 1959 he hired one of the Capitol's first black congressional aides, and he also took steps to integrate the United States Capitol Police for the first time since Reconstruction. Beginning in the 1970s, Byrd explicitly renounced his earlier views favoring racial segregation. Byrd said that he regretted filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would change it if he had the opportunity. Byrd also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think," said Byrd, adding he came to realize that African-Americans love their children as much as he does his. During debate in 1983 over the passage of the law creating the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Byrd grasped the symbolism of the day and its significance to his legacy, telling members of his staff "I'm the only one in the Senate who must vote for this bill".
In the 1960 Democratic presidential election primaries, Byrd – a close Senate ally of Lyndon B. Johnson – endorsed and campaigned for Hubert Humphrey over front-runner John F. Kennedy in the state's crucial primary. However, Kennedy won the state's primary and eventually the general election.
Byrd began night classes at American University Washington College of Law in 1953, while a member of the United States House of Representatives. He earned his J.D. cum laude a decade later, by which time he was a U.S. Senator. President John F. Kennedy spoke at the commencement ceremony on June 10, 1963 and presented the graduates their diplomas, including Byrd. Byrd completed law school in an era when undergraduate degrees were not a requirement. He later decided to complete his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and in 1994 he graduated summa cum laude from Marshall University.
Byrd joined with Democratic senators to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, personally filibustering the bill for 14 hours, a move he later said he regretted. Despite an 83-day filibuster in the Senate, both parties in Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Act, and President Johnson signed the bill into law. Byrd also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In 2005, Byrd told The Washington Post that his membership in the Baptist church led to a change in his views. In the opinion of one reviewer, Byrd, like other Southern and border-state Democrats, came to realize that he would have to temper "his blatantly segregationist views" and move to the Democratic Party mainstream if he wanted to play a role nationally.
Byrd served in the Senate Democratic leadership. He succeeded George Smathers as secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference from 1967 to 1971. He unseated Ted Kennedy in 1971 to become majority whip, or the second highest-ranking Democrat, until 1977. Smathers recalled that, "Ted was off playing. While Ted was away at Christmas, down in the islands, floating around having a good time with some of his friends, male and female, here was Bob up here calling on the phone. 'I want to do this, and would you help me?' He had it all committed so that when Teddy got back to town, Teddy didn't know what hit him, but it was already all over. That was Lyndon Johnson's style. Bob Byrd learned that from watching Lyndon Johnson." Byrd himself had told Smathers that " I have never in my life played a game of cards. I have never in my life had a golf club in my hand. I have never in life hit a tennis ball. I have—believe it or not—never thrown a line over to catch a fish. I don't do any of those things. I have only had to work all my life. And every time you told me about swimming, I don't know how to swim."
On March 29, 1968, Byrd criticized a Memphis, Tennessee protest: "It was a shameful and totally uncalled for outburst of lawfulness undoubtedly encouraged to some considerable degree, at least, by his [Dr. King's] words and actions, and his presence. There is no reason for us to believe that the same destructive rioting and violence cannot, or that it will not, happen here if King attempts his so-called Poor People's March, for what he plans in Washington appears to be something on a far greater scale than what he had indicated he planned to do in Memphis."
In 1969, Byrd launched a Scholastic Recognition Award; he also began to present a savings bond to valedictorians from high schools—public and private—in West Virginia. In 1985 Congress approved the nation's only merit-based scholarship program funded through the U.S. Department of Education, a program which Congress later named in Byrd's honor. The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program initially comprised a one-year, $1,500 award to students with "outstanding academic achievement" who had been accepted at a college or university. In 1993, the program began providing four-year scholarships.
In 1976, Byrd was the "favorite son" Presidential candidate in West Virginia's primary. His easy victory gave him control of the delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Byrd had the inside track as majority whip but focused most of his time running for majority leader, more so than for re-election to the Senate, as he was virtually unopposed for his fourth term. By the time the vote for majority leader came, his lead was so secure that his lone rival, Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, withdrew before the balloting took place. From 1977 to 1989 Byrd was the leader of the Senate Democrats, serving as majority leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989, and as minority leader from 1981 to 1987.
In 1977, Byrd was one of five Democrats to vote against the nomination of F. Ray Marshall as United States Secretary of Labor.
Byrd was an avid fiddle player for most of his life, starting in his teens when he played in various square dance bands. Once he entered politics, his fiddling skills attracted attention and won votes. In 1978 when Byrd was Majority Leader, he recorded an album called U.S. Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler (County, 1978). Byrd was accompanied by Country Gentlemen Doyle Lawson, James Bailey, and Spider Gilliam. Most of the LP consists of bluegrass music. Byrd covers "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die," a Zeke Manners song, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". He had performed at the Kennedy Center, on the Grand Ole Opry and on Hee Haw. He occasionally took a break from Senate Business to entertain audiences with his fiddle. He stopped playing in 1982 when the symptoms of a benign essential tremor had begun to affect the use of his hands.
Television cameras were first introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, by C-SPAN. Unsatisfied that Americans only saw Congress as the House of Representatives, Byrd and others pushed to televise Senate proceedings to prevent the Senate from becoming the "invisible branch" of government, succeeding in June 1986.
On December 2, 1981, Byrd voted in favor of an amendment to President Reagan's MX missiles proposal that would divert the silo system by $334 million as well as earmark further research for other methods that would allow giant missiles to be based. The vote was seen as a rebuff of the Reagan administration.
On March 11, 1982, Byrd voted against a measure sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch that sought to reverse Roe v. Wade and allow Congress and individual states to adopt laws banning abortions. Its passing was the first time a congressional committee supported an anti-abortion amendment.
In June 1984, Byrd was one of five Democrats to vote against the Lawton Chiles proposal to cease MX production for a year during study in search of a smaller and single-warhead missile. The 48 to 48 tie was broken by then-Vice President George H. W. Bush.
Vice President Joe Biden recalled Byrd's standing in the rain with him as Biden buried his daughter when Biden had just been elected to the Senate. He called Byrd "a tough, compassionate, and outspoken leader and dedicated above all else to making life better for the people of the Mountain State." President Barack Obama said, "His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history. He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator." Senator Jay Rockefeller, who had served with Byrd since 1985, said, "I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone." Former President Jimmy Carter noted, "He was my closest and most valuable adviser while I served as President. I respected him and attempted in every way to remain in his good graces. He was a giant among legislators, and was courageous in espousing controversial issues."
As the longest-serving Democratic senator, Byrd served as President pro tempore four times when his party was in the majority: from 1989 until the Republicans won control of the Senate in 1995; for 17 days in early 2001, when the Senate was evenly split between parties and outgoing Vice President Al Gore broke the tie in favor of the Democrats; when the Democrats regained the majority in June 2001 after Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican Party to become an independent; and again from 2007 to his death in 2010, as a result of the 2006 Senate elections. In this capacity, Byrd was third in the line of presidential succession at the time of his death, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Byrd strongly opposed Clinton's 1993 efforts to allow gays to serve in the military and supported efforts to limit gay marriage. In 1996, before the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, he said, "The drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal. [...] Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible."
In 1995, Byrd voted against a ban on intact dilation and extraction, a late-term abortion procedure typically referred to by its opponents as "partial-birth abortion". In 2003, however, he voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibits intact dilation and extraction. Byrd also voted against the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of a crime of violence.
Byrd later called joining the KKK "the greatest mistake I ever made." In 1997, he told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics but also warned, "Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don't get that albatross around your neck. Once you've made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena." In his last autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a KKK member because he "was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision—a jejune and immature outlook—seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions." Byrd also said in 2005, "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened."
In October 1999, Byrd was the only senator to vote present on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty was designed to ban underground nuclear testing and was the first major international security pact to be defeated in the Senate since the Treaty of Versailles.
In a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:
In 2002, the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies (CLS) was opened on the campus of Shepherd University. Adjoining the University's Ruth Scarborough Library, the CLS "advances representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens." The CLS is an archival research facility, housing the papers of Senator Robert C. Byrd in addition to the papers of Congressmen Harley O. Staggers Sr. and Harley O. Staggers Jr. and Scot Faulkner, the first Chief Administrative Officer of the United States House of Representatives. The CLS is a founding institution of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, "an independent alliance of organizations and institutions which promote the study of the U.S. Congress."
Byrd appeared in the Civil War movie Gods and Generals in 2003 along with former Virginia senator George Allen. Both played Confederate States officers.
In July 2004, Byrd released the New York Times best-selling book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, which criticized the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq.
Byrd opposed the Flag Desecration Amendment, saying that, while he wanted to protect the American flag, he believed that amending the Constitution "is not the most expeditious way to protect this revered symbol of our Republic." As an alternative, Byrd cosponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005 (S. 1370), a bill to prohibit destruction or desecration of the flag by anyone trying to incite violence or causing a breach of the peace, or who steals, damages, or destroys a flag on federal property, whether owned by the federal government or a private group or individual—can be imprisoned, fined or both. The bill did not pass.
In 2006, Byrd received a 67% rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for supporting rights-related legislation.
For 2007, Byrd was deemed the fourteenth-most powerful senator, as well as the twelfth-most powerful Democratic senator.
Byrd had a prominent role in the 2008 Warner Bros. documentary Body of War directed by Phil Donahue. The film chronicles the life of Tomas Young, paralyzed from the chest down after a sniper shot him as he was riding in a vehicle in Iraq. Several long clips of Byrd show him passionately arguing against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Later in the movie, Byrd has a one-on-one interview with Tomas Young in Byrd's Senate office, followed by a shot of Byrd walking beside the wheelchair-bound Young as they leave the Capitol.
On January 20, 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure during Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon and was taken away in an ambulance. Byrd, seated at the same table, became distraught and was himself removed to his office. Byrd's office reported that he was fine. On May 18, Byrd was admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fever due to a "minor infection", prolonged by a staphylococcus aureus infection. Byrd was released on June 30, 2009.
On September 30, 2010, Congress appropriated $193,400 to be paid equally among Byrd's children and grandchildren, representing the salary he would have earned in the next fiscal year, a Common practice when members of Congress die in office.
Byrd received a 65% vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his support of environmentally friendly legislation. Additionally, he received a "liberal" rating of 65.5% by the National Journal—higher than six other Democratic senators.