Wednesday, June 14, 2006

North Carolina's third senator

Former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms holds the record for service as a senator representing North Carolina – 30 years over five terms from 1972 to 2002.
But there’s another senator from North Carolina who has spent more time in the Senate than any other person. He’s Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., who moved past the late Sen. Strom Thurmond this week in Senate service. Byrd was elected to the Senate in 1958, when President Eisenhower was in office, and has served nearly 48 years in office. The Observer ran a piece about Byrd’s career Sunday but didn’t mention his N.C. origin.
Byrd was born in North Wilkesboro, N.C., on Nov. 20, 1917 – but not as Robert Byrd. His birth name was Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. His mother died in the worldwide flu epidemic that killed millions in 1918 and his father sent him to relatives in West Virginia. They adopted him and renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd. In 1946 he was elected to the West Virginia legislature, then won a seat in the U.S. House in 1952.
Byrd has had a remarkable career, serving as president pro tempore of the Senate when Democrats controlled that chamber.
But how he got his start in politics is quite a story, too. According to an account last year in the Washington Post, he came to notice as a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s when the Grand Dragon urged him to get into politics. Byrd later regretted his KKK experience. “It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation," he told the Post.
Byrd’s speeches in opposition to civil rights legislation in the 1960s and against the notion that a black person should ever serve on the Supreme Court came back to haunt him as well, no doubt. His racial sensibilities in the 1940s, 50s and 60s may not have been much different from many Southern politicians. In time Byrd’s views changed, and even the most conservative Southerners such as Thurmond and Helms eventually had black staff members.


Anonymous said...

Well, for someone so wanting to be forgiven for his early mistakes, he doesn't seem anymore forgiving than any of the other democrats. If any mistake (real or imagined) is made on the other side of the aisle, his party wants an apology followed by that official stepping down and being shamed for life. Such hypocrites! Now we have to find out he was born in our fair state. Geez...

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