By Will Obeney
Senator Robert Byrd died last week at the age of 92. He was once a senior member of the Ku Klux Klan and ran his own chapter. A rather nasty and racist person, then? Well, he went on to become one of America’s most loved politicians and was re-elected fifteen times for Congress and the Senate. As Bill Clinton poignantly put it at Byrd’s memorial ceremony:
“I’ll tell you what it [Byrd’s KKK affiliation] means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollers of West Virginia, he was trying to get elected. And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that’s what a good person does.”
From 1952 to 2010, Robert Byrd was either in the Congress or in the Senate. He became the longest-serving Senator and a national treasure.
In 1965, Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which would outlaw segregation and unequal voting registration requirements, something he later regretted. He then had a change of heart and his actions after this are what made him the most loved politician in America. He fought for the views of the average American, and never let his own thoughts get in the way of it.
Four years after, Byrd introduced a revolutionary scholarship programme which was later named after him. It provides opportunities for thousands of outstanding students to this day. One such student helped by the scheme went on to share the Senate floor with Byrd.
The Senator also became, in part, a Senate historian. He wrote seven books, many of which stimulated debate and/or opened up the workings of the Senate to the masses. He was responsible for the introduction of television cameras in the chamber, because he wanted Americans to be able to understand what Senators were doing for them.
One of the highlights of Byrd’s final term was his speech against dog-fighting. It became famous due to the repetition of the word ‘barbaric’. It could be said to show that the man was past his prime, but one cannot deny the emotion of it; this shows that throughout his long career in public service, he represented the views of American citizens with emotion that never left him, and for that he will always stand out in my mind as one of the greatest politicians in the history of the USA and possibly even the world.
This has been my attempt to sum up the career of Robert Byrd in a few hundred words. I did not succeed – it is impossible. So, I implore you to learn more about this great man, who has many inspiring quotations to his name and set a good example – not just for wannabe politicians, but for anybody who aims to achieve in life.