Monday, June 28, 2010

Senator Byrd, D-West Virginia, has died…

Senator Robert Byrd has died.

Senator Byrd was this nation’s longest serving Senator.

Many will remember Senator Byrd for his passionate opposition of President Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war.

Others will remember Senator Byrd for his decades in the United States Senate.

History will certainly remember Byrd’s conservative social views…his membership in a domestic terrorist group (the KKK), that historic 14-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…his vote for the King holiday and his endorsement of Obama for President in 2008.

Odds are that the great historian of the Senate understood that his words and votes would long outlive him.

As news came through of Byrd’s death, I was reminded that the history of a politician is also the history of those who elected that politician.

And so, the history of Senator Byrd is the history of decades of West Virginia voters too...the good, the bad and the ugly.

Senator Byrd was 92 years old.

10 comments:

Okey said...

Hiya! As a West Virginian and a die-hard fan of yours, I am very embarassed by Senator Byrd's policy stance on many things and absolutely in his membership in the KKK.

Please know that not all of us in West Virginia hold those views and we fight everyday to address these issues.

I know that Senator Byrd apologized and expressed his regret over his membership and his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, etc. Whether it was heartfelt or rhetoric, I do not know. I hope heartfelt.

xoxo
James in West Virginia

Shark-fu said...

Hey there James!

Thanks for the comment.

We can never know what is in the heart of another...what we are left with are actions to weigh against all the words.

If nothing more, Byrd's history and his expressed regret afford all of us an opportunity to examine our lives and actions and hopeful adjust where needed.

Again, thanks for sharing and reading!

berdawn said...

Another reader chiming in from "west-by-god"...our nation has lost a great politician and a force for good in this country. Senator Byrd was a lot of things over a long life but I hope he is most remembered for his work to reign in executive power and in recent months, his has been the lone voice from coal states against MTR (mountain top removal--an environmental disaster on par with what's happening in the Gulf). He was an excellent example of the possible: embracing the future and working with hope not fear. It would have been very easy for him to have become one of the southern pols who politely distance themselves from their racist pasts while clinging to the ideas that initially got them into office. Senator Byrd would have none of that and repudiated his early association with the klan and worked diligently to create opportunities for equity for all Americans. It seem unlikely whoever gets his seat will work for the same.

berdawn said...

I didn't mean to discount Sen. Byrd's past...the left has lost a good one and I doubt anyone who shares his any of his leanings has a shot at the open seat. I hope that his willingness to engage with the world is remembered as well as his association with the KKK.

Okey said...

Hey shark-fu,

You have good words as ususal! I
ran across this quote and thought I'd share it with everyone.

"I have lived with the weight of my own youthful mistakes my whole
life, like a millstone around my neck, and I accept that those mistakes
will forever be mentioned when people talk about me. I believe I have
learned from those mistakes. I know I've tried very hard to do so." - Senator Robert C. Byrd

Moi said...

Howdy from West Virginia!

Thanks for this post. Didn't know the man died.

But I've got a question for James.

Please know that not all of us in West Virginia hold those views and we fight everyday to address these issues.

Huh? We do? In which county? 'Cause as a black woman in Appalachia, I didn't see a whole lotta fightin' against racism when I was growing up. I've seen a lot more waitin' than I've seen fightin'.

Okey said...

@Moi

Morning...I can't address what happened with you growing up. As a Black Appalachian woman your standpoint is a powerful one. Your experiences hard for me to even begin to imagine to be honest because of my own background (white Appalachian male). I do hope I walk in empathy with that standpoint somewhat as a gay man.

I wish you'd seen more fightin' and you certainly should have. Lord knows there is still much work to be done on issues of equality and oppression in West Virginia. But I do believe that we have made

Professionally, I work for four years with my local Human Rights agency as an investigator. I met many other wonderful people striving for equality in West Virginia via my job.

Personally, I've been active and remain active in my community on human rights issues. I've striven very hard, as I think other have here in WV have as well, to learn, change, and join the fight.

A personal example is calling out someone who is using sexist language, telling a racist joke, etc. To keep silent is to lend consent for that kind of behavior.

I also keep up on the issues, support local advocacy groups, and write my elected officials and call them about multiple issues.

I definitely don't claim to be perfect. I am a recovering racist, sexist, and totally understand my life is made easier by the innate privilege I have because I was born a white male in this culture. I don't think you can be born white and socialized in this culture without being socialized as a racist. But, I make every effort to learn and act in ways that are non-racist or non-sexists, etc. Its hard, I screw up, and I get up and go on again. Most people that I know (and I know, you can't really generalize based upon your own experiences), do not tolerate oppressive behavior and work to bring about change.

So yes, there are us West Virginians out there who try and address these issues publicly and personally.

Peace
James

Moi said...

Very good response, James. I thank you.

And I accept my sincerest sympathy because being gay in WV - white or not - ain't no picnic. Not only do you have to contend with very bold homophobes, but you've got to deal with self-loathers in denial about a LOT of shit.

Seriously, bro...y'all have all my love.

PS - Could you give me the link to your organization?

Okey said...

@Moi -

I worked for the Huntington Human Relations Commission. They don't have a website, but you can reach them at 304-696-6656.

There is also the West Virginia Human Rights Commission (http://www.wvf.state.wv.us/wvhrc/), which covers the entire state and you can reach them at 1.888.676.5546.

Beckley has a Human Rights Commission and you can get them at (http://www.beckley.org/Department.cfm?Dept_ID=0202CEAA-3F86-4616-8CD7FA9861ABCBAD) (304) 256-1777

And finally the Human Rights Commission in Wheeling, WV (http://www.wheelingwv.gov/citygovernment.php?id=200) Phone: (304) 234-3609

They all investigate complaints of discrimination in employment, housing, and public accomodations based upon the protected classes under the civil rights act. They enforce the law and if they find in favor of the complainant, can levy fines. The biggest fine I got was 25,000 against a housing manager who was sexually harassing a female tenant.

I checked out your awesome blog and have added you to my reader :) The story about your gay friend is really a rough one. I've known people like him.

Take care,
James

SagaciousHillbilly said...

AB, I know this is an old post, but I gotta add my own 2 cents.

As someone who has studied the career for a loooong time, I can tell you that I truly believe that what Sen. Byrd said on any given day was what he truly believed in his heart.
Yes, he was a segregationist, but the miracle and inspriation of his life is that he came to truly believe that his position on race relations was all wrong and when he did, he was not shy about admitting his mistake and then embracing what he came to believe.
Isn't that a beautiful lesson in living for everyone? We can learn new things and change our beliefs if we want to.
That is one reason why I simply do not tolerate racist behaviors in my presence. I will call anyone at any time on anything that hints of racism.
Why? Because I know that people can change and see things differently. Having grown up in a racist environment, I know this to be true. Watching my senator from WV for over 40 yrs, I know this to be true. . . and it's a beautiful thing.
Hope you are well. I promise to stop by more often. I forget how much I miss my buddy the Angry Black Lady.