ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Exalted Cyclops & Kleagle Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)

Hmmm.... this About Senator Byrd page on his re-election site gives a pretty comprehensive biography of the rambling legislator from the great State of West Virginia. However, it doesn't mention his involvement in a certain organization during his early years in political power.

That's okay....Wikipedia provides all the pertinent details - with references!

Participation in the Ku Klux Klan
In the early 1940's, when Byrd was approximately 24 years old, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, which he had seen holding parades in Matoaka, West Virginia as a child, his father having been among the hooded marchers. He "recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the Grand Dragon Joel L. Baskin for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter..."When it came time to choose the Exalted Cyclops, the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously." Byrd, in his autobiography, attributed the beginnings of his political career to this incident, though he lamented that they involved the Klan. According to Byrd's recollection, Baskin told him "You have a talent for leadership, Bob...The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd recalls that "Suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities. I was only 23 or 24, and the thought of a political career had never struck me. But strike me that night, it did."

He participated in the KKK for a period of time during World War II, holding the titles "Kleagle", which indicated a Klan recruiter, and "Exalted Cyclops." Byrd did not serve in the military during the war, working instead as a welder in a Baltimore shipyard, assembling warships.

Though Byrd did not serve himself, he commented on the 1945 controversy raging over the idea of racially integrating the military. In his book When Jim Crow Met John Bull, Graham Smith referred to a letter written that year by Byrd, when he was 28 years old, to racist Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, in which Byrd vowed never to fight:
"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."
When running for Congress in 1952, he announced, "After about a year, I became disinterested, quit paying my dues, and dropped my membership in the organization. During the nine years that have followed, I have never been interested in the Klan." During this campaign, "Byrd went on the radio to acknowledge that he belonged to the Klan from 'mid-1942 to early 1943,' according to newspaper accounts. He explained that he had joined 'because it offered excitement and because it was strongly opposed to communism.' " He said that after about a year, he quit and dropped his membership, and never was interested in the Klan again.

During the campaign, Byrd's Republican Party opponent "uncovered a letter Byrd had handwritten to [...] the KKK Imperial Wizard, recommending a friend as a Kleagle and urging promotion of the Klan throughout the country. The letter was dated 1946 -- when Byrd was 29 years old and long after the time Byrd claimed he had lost interest in the Klan. 'The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia," Byrd wrote, according to newspaper accounts of that period."

During his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1958, when Byrd was 41 years old, Byrd defended the Klan. He argued that the KKK had been incorrectly blamed for much of violence in the South.

Yes, it was a long time ago... But this wasn't some social club that he was involved in. And his role certainly wasn't on the periphery. That his supporters waive this historical fact aside given the pork that he doles out for West Virginia and his opposition to the President is rather instructive in my opinion. Should former members of the Klan hold leadership positions in the US government? Not in my world... It's the 21st century, for Pete's sake. Is there truly no one in the state of West Virginia that is better suited than a former Exalted Cyclops and Kleagle of the Klan?

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler