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Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from West Virginia from 1959 to 2010. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd previously served as a U.S. Representative from 1953 until 1959. He was the longest-serving Senator in United States history. In addition, he was, at the time of his death, the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress,[1][2][3][4] a record later surpassed by Representative John Dingell of Michigan.[5] Byrd was the last remaining member of the U.S. Senate to have served during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, and the last remaining member of Congress to have served during the presidency of Harry Truman. Byrd is also the only West Virginian to have served in both chambers of the state legislature and both chambers of Congress.[6]

Robert Byrd
Robert Byrd official portrait.jpg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 2007 – June 28, 2010
Preceded by Ted Stevens
Succeeded by Daniel Inouye
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
Preceded by Strom Thurmond
Succeeded by Ted Stevens
In office
January 3, 2001 – January 20, 2001
Preceded by Strom Thurmond
Succeeded by Strom Thurmond
In office
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by John C. Stennis
Succeeded by Strom Thurmond
Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2009
Preceded by Thad Cochran
Succeeded by Daniel Inouye
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
Preceded by Ted Stevens
Succeeded by Ted Stevens
In office
January 3, 1989 – January 3, 1995
Preceded by John C. Stennis
Succeeded by Mark Hatfield
President pro tempore emeritus of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
Preceded by Strom Thurmond
Succeeded by Ted Stevens
Senate Majority Leader
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1989
Deputy Alan Cranston
Preceded by Bob Dole
Succeeded by George Mitchell
In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 1981
Deputy Alan Cranston
Preceded by Mike Mansfield
Succeeded by Howard Baker
Senate Minority Leader
In office
January 3, 1981 – January 3, 1987
Deputy Alan Cranston
Preceded by Howard Baker
Succeeded by Bob Dole
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1977
Leader Mike Mansfield
Preceded by Ted Kennedy
Succeeded by Alan Cranston
Secretary of Senate Democratic Conference
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1971
Leader Mike Mansfield
Preceded by George Smathers
Succeeded by Ted Moss
United States Senator
from West Virginia
In office
January 3, 1959 – June 28, 2010
Preceded by Chapman Revercomb
Succeeded by Carte Goodwin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 6th district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1959
Preceded by Erland Hedrick
Succeeded by John Slack
Member of the West Virginia Senate
from the 9th district
In office
December 1, 1950 – December 23, 1952
Preceded by Eugene Scott
Succeeded by Jack Nuckols
Personal details
Born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.
(1917-11-20)November 20, 1917
North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, U.S.
Died June 28, 2010(2010-06-28) (aged 92)
Merrifield, Virginia, U.S.
Resting place Columbia Gardens Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Erma James
(m. 1936; d. 2006)
Children 2
Education Beckley College
Concord University
University of Charleston
Marshall University (BA)
George Washington University
American University (JD)

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.[7] 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.

Serving three different tenures as Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations enabled Byrd to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia.[8] Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending,[9] while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state. He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, but later renounced racism and segregation, and spoke in opposition to the Iraq War. Renowned for his knowledge of Senate precedent and parliamentary procedure, Byrd wrote a four-volume history of the Senate in later life.

Near the end of his life, Byrd was in declining health and was hospitalized several times. He died on June 28, 2010, and was buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.



Byrd's mother, Ada Mae Kirby

Robert Byrd was born on November 20, 1917 as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.[10] in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Cornelius Calvin Sale Sr. and his wife Ada Mae (Kirby).[7] When he was ten months old, his mother died in the 1918 flu pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father[10] 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.[3][11][12]

Byrd was valedictorian of his 1934 graduating class at Mark Twain High School in Tams, West Virginia.[13]


Senator Byrd, his wife, Erma, and dog, Trouble

On May 29, 1936, Byrd married Erma Ora James (June 12, 1917 – March 25, 2006)[14] who was born to a coal mining family in Floyd County, Virginia.[15] Her family moved to Raleigh County, West Virginia, where she met Byrd when they attended the same high school.[16]


Robert Byrd had two daughters (Mona Byrd Fatemi and Marjorie Byrd Moore), six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.[7]

Ku Klux KlanEdit

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.[10][11]

According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, "You have a talent for leadership, Bob ... The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd later recalled, "Suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did."[17] Byrd became a recruiter and leader of his chapter.[11] When it came time to elect the top officer (Exalted Cyclops) in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.[11]

In December 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo:

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[11][18]

In 1946, Byrd wrote a letter to a Grand Wizard stating, "The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation."[19] However, when running for the United States House of Representatives 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." He said he had joined the Klan because he felt it offered excitement and was anti-communist.[11]

Byrd later called joining the KKK "the greatest mistake I ever made."[20] 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."[21] 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."[22] 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."[11]

Early careerEdit

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.[7] Byrd became a local celebrity after a radio station in Beckley began broadcasting his "fiery fundamentalist lessons."[23] In 1950, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate, where he served from 1951 to 1952.[7]

In 1951, Byrd was among the official witnesses of the execution of Harry Burdette and Fred Painter, which was the first use of the electric chair in West Virginia.[24] In 1965 the state abolished capital punishment, with the last execution having occurred in 1959.[25]

Continued educationEdit

Byrd and JFK at his 1963 commencement ceremony

Early in his career Byrd attended Beckley College, Concord College, Morris Harvey College, Marshall College, and George Washington University Law School,[7] and joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.[26]

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,[7] 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.[3]

Congressional serviceEdit

In 1952, Byrd was elected to the United States House of Representatives for West Virginia's 6th congressional district,[7] 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.[7] 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.[7] 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.

While Byrd faced some vigorous Republican opposition in his career, his last serious electoral opposition occurred in 1982 when he was challenged by freshman Congressman Cleve Benedict. Despite his tremendous popularity in the state, Byrd ran unopposed only once, in 1976. On three other occasions – in 1970, 1994 and 2000 – he won all 55 of West Virginia's counties. In his re-election bid in 2000, he won all but seven precincts. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, the daughter of one of Byrd's longtime foes, former governor Arch Moore Jr., briefly considered a challenge to Byrd in 2006 but decided against it. Capito's district covered much of the territory Byrd had represented in the U.S. House.

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.[27] However, Kennedy won the state's primary and eventually the general election.[28]

Public service recordsEdit

Byrd early in his Senate career

Byrd was elected to a record ninth consecutive full Senate term on November 7, 2006. He became the longest-serving senator in American history on June 12, 2006, surpassing Strom Thurmond of South Carolina with 17,327 days of service.[1] On November 18, 2009, Byrd became the longest-serving member in congressional history, with 56 years, 320 days of combined service in the House and Senate, passing Carl Hayden of Arizona.[2][3] Previously, Byrd had held the record for the longest unbroken tenure in the Senate (Thurmond resigned during his first term and was re-elected seven months later). He is the only senator ever to serve more than 50 years. Including his tenure as a state legislator from 1947 to 1953, Byrd's service on the political front exceeded 60 continuous years. Byrd, who never lost an election, cast his 18,000th vote on June 21, 2007, the most of any senator in history.[3][29] John Dingell broke Byrd's record as longest-serving member of Congress on June 7, 2013.[30]

Upon the death of former Florida Senator George Smathers on January 20, 2007, Byrd became the last living United States Senator from the 1950s.[31]

Having taken part in the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union, Byrd was the last surviving senator to have voted on a bill granting statehood to a U.S. territory. At the time of Byrd's death, fourteen sitting or former members of the Senate had not been born when Byrd's tenure in the Senate began, President Barack Obama among them.

Committee assignmentsEdit

These are the committee assignments for Sen. Byrd's 9th and final term.

Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964Edit

Majority Whip Byrd meeting with President Gerald Ford

Byrd was a member of the wing of the Democratic Party that opposed federally-mandated desegregation and civil rights. However, despite his early career in the KKK, Byrd was linked to such senators as John C. Stennis, J. William Fulbright and George Smathers, who based their segregationist positions on their view of states' rights in contrast to senators like James Eastland, who held a reputation as a committed racist.[32]

Byrd joined with Democratic senators to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[33] personally filibustering the bill for 14 hours, a move he later said he regretted.[34] 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.[35] 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.[11]


In February 1968, Byrd questioned General Earle Wheeler during the latter's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. During a White House meeting between President Johnson and congressional Democratic leaders on February 6, Byrd stated his concern for the ongoing Vietnam conflict, citing the U.S.'s lack of intelligence, preparation, underestimating of the morale and vitality of the Viet Cong, and overestimated how backed Americans would be by the South Vietnam government.[36] President Johnson rejected Byrd's observations. "Anyone can kick a barn down. It takes a good carpenter to build one."[37]

1968 Presidential electionEdit

During the 1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Byrd supported the incumbent President Johnson. Of the challenging Robert F. Kennedy, Byrd said, "Bobby-come-lately has made a mistake. I won't even listen to him. There are many who liked his brother—as Bobby will find out—but who don't like him."[38]

Leadership rolesEdit

Drawer of the Senate desk used by Democratic leaders, including Byrd

Byrd served in the Senate Democratic leadership. He succeeded George Smathers as secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference from 1967 to 1971.[7] He unseated Ted Kennedy in 1971 to become majority whip, or the second highest-ranking Democrat, until 1977.[7] 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."[39]

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.[7]

President pro tempore Byrd and House Speaker Dennis Hastert presided over a special joint session following the September 11, 2001, attacks. Here President Bush shakes hands with Byrd.

Appropriations CommitteeEdit

Byrd was well known for steering federal dollars to West Virginia, one of the country's poorest states. He was called the "King of Pork" by Citizens Against Government Waste.[40] After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd set a goal securing a total of $1 billion for public works in the state. He passed that mark in 1991, and funds for highways, dams, educational institutions, and federal agency offices flowed unabated over the course of his membership. More than 30 existing or pending federal projects bear his name. He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006, when he called himself "Big Daddy" at the dedication for the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center.[41] Examples of this ability to claim funds and projects for his state include the Federal Bureau of Investigation's repository for computerized fingerprint records as well as several United States Coast Guard computing and office facilities.[42]

Parliamentary expertiseEdit

Byrd also was known for using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Byrd frustrated Republicans with his encyclopedic knowledge of the inner workings of the Senate, particularly prior to the Reagan Revolution. From 1977 to 1979 he was described as "performing a procedural tap dance around the minority, outmaneuvering Republicans with his mastery of the Senate's arcane rules."[43] In 1988, majority leader Byrd moved a call of the Senate, which was adopted by the majority present, in order to have the Sergeant-at-Arms arrest members not in attendance. One member (Robert Packwood, R-Oregon) was escorted back to the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms in order to obtain a quorum.[44]

President pro temporeEdit

As the longest-serving Democratic senator, Byrd served as President pro tempore four times when his party was in the majority:[7] 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.

Scholarships and TAH History GrantsEdit

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.[13]

In 2002 Byrd secured unanimous approval for a major national initiative to strengthen the teaching of "traditional American history" in K-12 public schools.[45] The Department of Education competitively awards $50 to $120 million a year to school districts (in amounts of about $500,000 to $1 million). The money goes to teacher training programs that are geared to improving the knowledge of history teachers.[46] The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 eliminated funding for the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program.[47]

Senate historianEdit

Byrd and Dr. Richard Baker, the Senate historian

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.

External video
  Booknotes interview with Byrd on The Senate: 1789–1989, June 18, 1989, C-SPAN

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.[48] 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.[49]

In 2004, Byrd received the American Historical Association's first Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service; in 2007, Byrd received the Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians. Both awards honor individuals outside the academy who have made a significant contribution to the writing and/or presentation of history. In 2014, The Byrd Center for Legislative Studies began assessing the archiving of Senator Byrd's electronic correspondence and floor speeches in order to preserve these documents and make them available to the wider community.[50]

Final-term Senate highlightsEdit

Speech by Senator Byrd made to U.S. Senate following the indictment of Michael Vick on federal dog fighting charges
The Dalai Lama receiving a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. From left: Tenzin Gyatso, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd and U.S. President George W. Bush

On July 19, 2007, Byrd gave a 25-minute speech in the Senate against dog fighting, in response to the indictment of football player Michael Vick.[51] In recognition of the speech, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Byrd their 2007 Person of the Year.[52]

For 2007, Byrd was deemed the fourteenth-most powerful senator, as well as the twelfth-most powerful Democratic senator.[53]

Byrd with farmers from West Virginia

On May 19, 2008, Byrd endorsed Barack Obama (D-Illinois). One week after the West Virginia Democratic Primary, in which Hillary Clinton defeated Obama by 41 to 32 per cent,[54] Byrd said, "Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support."[55] When asked in October 2008 about the possibility that the issue of race would influence West Virginia voters, as Obama is an African-American, Byrd replied, "Those days are gone. Gone!"[56] Obama lost West Virginia (by 13%) but won the election.

On January 26, 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to vote against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner as United States Secretary of the Treasury (along with Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Tom Harkin of Iowa).[57]

On February 26, 2009, Byrd was one of two Democrats to vote against the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, which if it had become law would have added a voting seat in the United States House of Representatives for the District of Columbia and add a seat for Utah, explaining that he supported the intent of the legislation, but regarded it as an attempt to solve with legislation an issue which required resolution with a Constitutional amendment. (Democrat Max Baucus of Montana also cast a "nay" vote.)[58]

Although his health was poor, Byrd was present for every crucial vote during the December 2009 Senatorial healthcare debate; his vote was necessary so Democrats could obtain cloture to break a Republican filibuster. At the final vote on December 24, 2009, Byrd referenced recently deceased Senator Ted Kennedy, a devoted proponent, when casting his vote: "Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy! Aye!"[59]

Political viewsEdit


Portrait of Byrd as Majority Leader

Byrd initially compiled a mixed record on the subjects of race relations and desegregation.[60] 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.[61] Beginning in the 1970s, Byrd explicitly renounced his earlier views favoring racial segregation.[20][62] Byrd said that he regretted filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964[63] 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.[64] 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".[61]

Byrd was the only senator to vote against confirming both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, the only two African-American nominees. In Marshall's case, Byrd asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to look into the possibility that Marshall had either connections to communists or a communist past.[65] With respect to Thomas, Byrd stated that he was offended by Thomas's use of the phrase "high-tech lynching of uppity blacks" in his defense and that he was "offended by the injection of racism" into the hearing. He called Thomas's comments a "diversionary tactic" and said "I thought we were past that stage." Regarding Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges against Thomas, Byrd supported Hill.[66] Byrd joined 45 other Democrats in voting against confirming Thomas to the Supreme Court.[67]

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."[68]

In a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:

They're much, much better than they've ever been in my life-time ... I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us ... I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' We practice that. There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much.[69]

Byrd's use of the term "white nigger" created immediate controversy. When asked about it, Byrd responded,

I apologize for the characterization I used on this program ... The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today's society ... In my attempt to articulate strongly held feelings, I may have offended people.[69]

For the 2003–2004 session, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)[70] rated Byrd's voting record as being 100% in line with the NAACP's position on the thirty-three Senate bills they evaluated. Sixteen other senators received that rating. In June 2005, Byrd proposed an additional $10,000,000 in federal funding for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., remarking that, "With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently."[71] Upon news of his death, the NAACP released a statement praising Byrd, saying that he "became a champion for civil rights and liberties" and "came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda".[72]

Clinton impeachmentEdit

Byrd initially said that the impeachment proceedings against Clinton should be taken seriously. Although he harshly criticized any attempt to make light of the allegations, he made the motion to dismiss the charges and effectively end the matter. Even though he voted against both articles of impeachment, he was the sole Democrat to vote to censure Clinton.[73]

LGBT rightsEdit

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."[74]

Despite his previous position, he later stated his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and argued that it was unnecessary because the states already had the power to ban gay marriages.[75] However, when the amendment came to the Senate floor, he was one of the two Democratic senators who voted in favor of cloture.[76]


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.[77][78]

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".[79] In 2003, however, he voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibits intact dilation and extraction.[80] 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.[81]

Gerald Ford eraEdit

On November 22, 1974, the Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to recommend the nomination of Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President of the United States to the full Senate. Byrd admitted that he had preferred sending the nomination with no recommendation but was worried the act would apply prejudice to the nominee.[82]

In January 1975, after President Ford requested 300 million in additional military aid for South Vietnam and 222 million more for Cambodia from Congress, Byrd said Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had described the aid as "imperative" and that congressional leaders had been told North Vietnam would take over Saigon "little by little" if additional ammunition and other aid were not provided by the US to Saigon.[83] In February, along with Mike Mansfield, Hugh Scott, and Robert P. Griffin, Byrd was one of four senators to sponsor a compromise modification of the Senate's filibuster rule where three-fifths of the total Senate membership would be adequate in invoking closure on any measure except a change in the Senate's rules.[84] In March, while the Senate voted on reforming its filibuster rule, James B. Allen and other senators used their allotted time to speak at length and also force a series of votes. In response, Byrd said the group was engaging in an "exercise in futility" and that the chamber had already made up its mind.[85] In April, after President Ford and his administration's lawyers contended that Ford had authority as president to use troops under the War Powers Act, Byrd and Thomas F. Eagleton objected by charging that Ford was establishing a dangerous precedent.[86] Byrd issued a statement on the Senate floor admitting his "serious reservations" pertaining to the Ford administration's intent to bring roughly 130,000 South Vietnamese refugees to the United States, citing cultural differences and unemployment as raising "grave doubts about the wisdom of bringing any sizable number of evacuees here."[87] In May, after President Ford appealed for Americans to support the resettlement of 130,000 Vietnamese and Cambodians in the US, Byrd told reporters that he believed that President Ford's request for 507 million for refugee transport and resettlement would be reduced, citing its lack of political support in the United States.[88] In September, Byrd sponsored an amendment to the appropriations bill that if enacted would bar the education department from ordering busing to the school nearest to a pupil's home and sought to hold the Senate floor until there was an agreement among colleagues on his proposal. This failed, as the time limit for debating various proposals ran out.[89] On November 10, Byrd met with President Ford for a discussion on the New York loan guarantee bill.[90]

In April 1976, Byrd was one of five members of the Senate Select Committee to vote for a requirement that the proposed oversight committee would share Its jurisdiction with four committees that had authority over intelligence operations.[91] In June, after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send a bill breaking up 18 large oil companies into separate production, refining and refining‐marketing entities to the Senate floor, Byrd announced his opposition to divestiture and joined Republicans Hugh Scott and Charles Mathias in confirming their votes were to report the bill.[92] In September, Congress overrode President Ford's veto of a 56 billion appropriations bill for social services, Ford afterward telling Byrd and House Speaker Carl Albert that he would sign two bills supported by the Democrats.[93]

Byrd was elected Majority Leader on January 4, 1977.[94] On January 14, President Ford met with congressional leadership to announce his proposals for pay increases of high government officials, Byrd afterward telling reporters that the president had also stated his intent to recommend that the raises be linked to a code of conduct.[95] Days later, after the Senate established a special 15‐member committee to draw up a code of ethics for senators, Byrd told reporters that he was supportive of the measure and it would be composed of eight Democrats and seven Republicans who would have until March 1 to issue a draft code that would then be subject to change by the full Senate.[96]

Jimmy Carter eraEdit

In January 1977, after President-elect Carter announced his nomination of Theodore C. Sorensen to be Director of Central Intelligence, Byrd admitted to reporters that there could be difficulty securing a Senate confirmation.[97] Conservative opposition to Sorenson's nomination led Carter to conclude that he could not be confirmed, and Carter withdrawing it without the Senate taking action.[98]

On January 18, after the Senate established a special 15‐member committee to draw up a code of ethics for senators, Byrd and Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced their support for the resolution, Byrd adding that knowledge of the code of ethics being enacted in the Senate would be privy to the public, press, and members of the Senate.[99] While eight of Carter's secretaries were confirmed within the first hours of his presidency, Byrd made an unsuccessful effort to secure a date and time limit for debate on the confirmation of F. Ray Marshall, Carter's nominee for United States Secretary of Labor.[100]

In October 1977, Byrd stated his refusal to authorize the Senate dropping consideration of the natural gas legislation under any circumstances, predicting the matter would be settled in the coming days as a result of conversations with colleagues he had the night before and a growing disillusion with filibusters in place of action on legislation. Byrd added that the deregulation bill would not become law due to it being identical to the Carter administration's proposal and President Carter's prior statement that he would veto deregulation bills.[101]

On February 2, 1978, Byrd and Minority Leader Baker invited all other senators to join them in sponsoring two amendments to the Panama Canal neutrality treaty, the two party leaders sending copies of amendments recommended by the Foreign Relations Committee the previous week.[102]

In July 1978, Byrd introduced and endorsed a proposal by George McGovern for an amendment to repeal the 42‐month‐old embargo on American military assistance for Turkey that also linked any future aid for that country to progress on a negotiated settlement of the Cyprus problem. The Senate approved the amendment in a vote of 57 to 42 as part of a 2.9 billion international security assistance bill. Byrd stated that every government in the NSTO alliance except Greece favored repeal of the embargo.[103]

In August 1980, Byrd stated that Congress was unlikely to pass a tax cut before the November elections despite the Senate being in the mood for passing one.[104]

On May 10, 1980, Byrd called for President Carter to debate Senator Ted Kennedy, who he complimented as having done a service for the US by raising key issues in his presidential campaign.[105] On August 2, Byrd advocated for an open Democratic National Convention where the delegates were not bound to a single candidate. The endorsement was seen as a break from President Carter.[106] In September, Byrd said that Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan had made comments on the war between Iran and Iraq that were a disservice to the United States and that he was exercising "reckless political posturing" in foreign policy.[107]

George W. Bush eraEdit

Byrd praised the nomination of John G. Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Likewise, Byrd supported the confirmation of Samuel Alito to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Like most Democrats, Byrd opposed Bush's tax cuts and his proposals to change the Social Security program.

Byrd opposed the 2002 Homeland Security Act, which created the Department of Homeland Security, stating that the bill ceded too much authority to the executive branch.

On May 2, 2002, Byrd charged the White House with engaging in "sophomoric political antics", citing Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge briefing senators in another location instead of the Senate on how safe he felt the US was.[108]

He also led the opposition to Bush's bid to win back the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress cannot amend, but lost overwhelmingly. In the 108th Congress, however, Byrd won his party's top seat on the new Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

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.

Iraq WarEdit

Byrd with Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates, November 30, 2006
Byrd with Lieutenant General David Petraeus, January 23, 2007

Byrd led a filibuster against the resolution granting President George W. Bush broad power to wage a "preemptive" war against Iraq, but he could not get even a majority of his own party to vote against cloture.[109]

Byrd was one of the Senate's most outspoken critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Byrd anticipated the difficulty of fighting an insurgency in Iraq, stating on March 13, 2003,

If the United States leads the charge to war in the Persian Gulf, we may get lucky and achieve a rapid victory. But then we will face a second war: a war to win the peace in Iraq. This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In light of this enormous task, it would be a great mistake to expect that this will be a replay of the 1991 war. The stakes are much higher in this conflict.[110]

On March 19, 2003, when Bush ordered the invasion after receiving congressional approval, Byrd said,

Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.[111]

Byrd also criticized Bush for his speech declaring the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, which Bush made on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. Byrd stated on the Senate floor,

I do not begrudge his salute to America's warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely and skillfully, as have their countrymen still in Iraq. But I do question the motives of a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech.[112]

On October 17, 2003, Byrd delivered a speech expressing his concerns about the future of the nation and his unequivocal antipathy to Bush's policies. Referencing the Hans Christian Andersen children's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, Byrd said of the president: "the emperor has no clothes." Byrd further lamented the "sheep-like" behavior of the "cowed Members of this Senate" and called on them to oppose the continuation of a "war based on falsehoods."

In April 2004, Byrd mentioned the possibility of the Bush administration violating law by its failure to inform leadership in Congress midway through 2002 about its use of emergency antiterror dollars to begin preparations for an invasion of Iraq. Byrd stated that he had never been told of a shift in money, a charge reported in the Bob Woodward book Plan of Attack, and its validation would mean "the administration failed to abide by the law to consult with and fully inform Congress."[113]

Byrd accused the Bush administration of stifling dissent:

The right to ask questions, debate, and dissent is under attack. The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms. Even in the Senate, our history and tradition of being the world's greatest deliberative body is being snubbed. This huge spending bill—$87 billion—has been rushed through this chamber in just one month. There were just three open hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee on $87 billion—$87 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born—$87 billion without a single outside witness called to challenge the administration's line.

Of the more than 18,000 votes he cast as a senator, Byrd said he was proudest of his vote against the Iraq war resolution.[114] Byrd also voted to tie a timetable for troop withdrawal to war funding.

Gang of 14Edit

On May 23, 2005, Byrd was one of 14 senators[115] (who became known as the "Gang of 14") to forge a compromise on the judicial filibuster, thus securing up and down votes for many judicial nominees and ending the threat of the so-called nuclear option that would have eliminated the filibuster entirely. Under the agreement, the senators retained the power to filibuster a judicial nominee in only an "extraordinary circumstance." It ensured that the appellate court nominees (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor) would receive votes by the full Senate.

Other votesEdit

In September 1971, Representative Richard H. Poff was under consideration by President Nixon for a Supreme Court nomination, Byrd warning Poff that his nomination could be met with opposition by liberal senators and see a filibuster emerge. Within hours, Poff announced his declining of the nomination.[116]

On June 7, 1972, Byrd announced that he would vote against Richard G. Kleindienst, President Nixon's nominee for United States Attorney General, Byrd saying in a news release that this was Nixon's first nomination that he had not voted to confirm and that testimony at hearings investigating Kleindienst's tenure at the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation displayed "a show of arrogance and deception and insensitivity to the the people's right to know."[117]

In 1977, Byrd was one of five Democrats to vote against the nomination of F. Ray Marshall as United States Secretary of Labor. Marshall was opposed by conservatives in both parties because of his pro-labor positions, including support for repealing right to work laws.[118] Marshall was confirmed, and served until the end of Carter's term in 1981.

In May 1981, Byrd announced his support for the Reagan administration's proposed budget for the fiscal year 1982 during a weekly news conference, citing that the "people want the President to be given a chance with his budget." Byrd added that he did not believe a balanced budget would be achieved by 1984, calling the budget "a balanced budget on paper only, made up of juggled figures produced out of thin air", and charged the administration with making assumptions, his comments being seen as an indication that little opposition would amount from the Democrats to the Reagan budget.[119]

On December 2, 1981, Byrd voted in favor[120] 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.[121][122]

In March 1982, Byrd announced her would introduce an amendment to the War Powers Act that would bar the president from being able to send combat troops to El Salvador without the approval of Congress. Byrd described the proposal as only allowing the president to act with independence in the event that Americans needed to evacuate El Salvador or if the United States was attacked. "It is my view that if Americans are to be asked to shed their blood in the jungles of El Salvador, all Americans should first have an opportunity to debate and carefully evaluate that action."[123]

In March 1984, Byrd voted against a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing periods in public school for silent prayer,[124] and in favor of President Reagan's unsuccessful proposal for a constitutional amendment permitting organized school prayer in public schools.[125][126]

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.[127]

In 1990, Byrd sponsored a 500 million assistance package that if enacted would grant special benefits to coal miners who lose their jobs as a result of new clean air legislation. The proposal was met with opposition by the White House and Senate leadership and lobbying against it persisted until March 29, when the Senate rejected the measure by a vote of 50 to 49.[128]

In October 1990, Byrd and James A. McClure served as floor managers for the appropriation bill for the National Endowment of the Arts, accepting an amendment by Jesse Helms prohibiting NEA support of work denigrating objects or beliefs of religions.[129]

In November 1993, when the Senate voted to seek a federal court enforcement of a subpoena for the diaries of Bob Packwood, Byrd stated the possibility of Americans becoming convinced that the Senate was delaying taking action to protect one of its own members. Byrd also called for Packwood to resign. "None of us is without flaws. But when those flaws damage the institution of the Senate, it is time to have the grace to go!"[130] Packwood resigned in 1995.[131]

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.[132][133]

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 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.[134] After missing nearly two months while in hospital, Byrd returned to the Senate floor on July 21 to vote against the elimination of funding for the F-22 fighter plane.[135]

Ratings groupsEdit

Byrd received a 65% vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his support of environmentally friendly legislation.[136] Additionally, he received a "liberal" rating of 65.5% by the National Journal—higher than six other Democratic senators.[137]

In 2010, Byrd received a 70% lifetime rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for supporting rights-related legislation.[138]

Health issues and deathEdit

Byrd had an essential tremor; he was eventually confined to a wheelchair.[139][140] His health declined through 2008, including several hospital admissions.[141][142][143][144]

On January 20, 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure during Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon and was taken away in an ambulance.[145] Byrd, seated at the same table, became distraught and was himself removed to his office. Byrd's office reported that he was fine.[146] On May 18, Byrd was admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fever due to a "minor infection",[147] prolonged by a staphylococcus aureus infection.[148] Byrd was released on June 30, 2009.[149]

Byrd's final hospital stay began on June 27, 2010, at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax County, Virginia.[150][151][152] He died at approximately 3 a.m. EDT the next day at age 92 from natural causes.[153]

United States President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin and members of Congress attended the memorial service for Byrd at the State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 2, 2010.

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."[154] 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."[155] 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."[156] 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."[157]

On July 1, 2010, Byrd lay in repose on the Lincoln Catafalque in the Senate chamber of the United States Capitol, becoming the first Senator to do so since his first year in the Senate, 1959. He was then flown to Charleston, West Virginia, where he lay in repose in the Lower Rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol.[citation needed]

A funeral was held on July 2, 2010, on the grounds of the State Capitol where Byrd was eulogized by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Joe Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Congressman Nick Rahall, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and former President Bill Clinton. After the funeral services in Charleston, his body was returned to Arlington, Virginia, for funeral services on July 6, 2010, at Memorial Baptist Church.[158] After the funeral in Arlington, Byrd was buried next to his wife Erma at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, although family members have stated that both the senator and Mrs. Byrd will be reinterred somewhere in West Virginia once a site is determined.[158][159]

The song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" was played at the end of the funeral in a bluegrass fashion as his casket was being carried back up the stairs and into the West Virginia State Capitol Building.[160][161]

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.[162][163]

Grave of Byrd and his wife, Erma

Reaction to deathEdit

Multiple political figures issued statements following Byrd's death:[164]

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "It is almost impossible to imagine the United States Senate without Robert Byrd. He was not just its longest serving member, he was its heart and soul. From my first day in the Senate, I sought out his guidance, and he was always generous with his time and his wisdom." [165]
  • Vice President of the United States (and therefore President of the Senate) Joe Biden: "A very close friend of mine, one of my mentors, a guy who was there when I was a 29-year-old kid being sworn into the United States Senate. Shortly thereafter, a guy who stood in the rain, in the pouring rain, freezing rain outside a church as I buried my daughter and my wife before I got sworn in ... We lost the dean of the United States Senate, but also the state of West Virginia lost its most fierce advocate and, as I said, I lost a dear friend.
  • Democratic Senator Chris Dodd: He [Robert Byrd] never stopped growing as a public official, and was a man who learned from his mistakes. He was more than a friend and colleague. He was a mentor to me and literally hundreds of legislators with whom he served over the past five decades.
  • Republican Senator Lindsey Graham: Senator Byrd was a valuable ally and worthy opponent. He will be viewed by history as one of the giants of the Senate.
  • Republican Senator Orrin Hatch: On the issues, we were frequent opponents, but he was always gracious both in victory and defeat. This is a man who earned his law degree while serving in the Senate, and who had a prodigious knowledge of ancient and modern history.
  • President Barack Obama: "He [Robert Byrd] was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors. 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."
  • Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell: "Senator Byrd combined a devotion to the U.S. Constitution with a deep learning of history to defend the interests of his state and the traditions of the Senate. We will remember him for his fighter's spirit, his abiding faith, and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes."
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Throughout his historic career in the House and Senate, he never stopped working to improve the lives of the people of West Virginia. While some simply bore witness to history, Senator Byrd shaped it and strove to build a brighter future for us all."
  • Fellow Democratic Senator from West Virginia Jay Rockefeller: "Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America. But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain."

In popular cultureEdit

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.[citation needed]

A fictionalized version of Byrd, then the Senate Majority Leader, was a character in the Jeffrey Archer novel Shall We Tell the President?[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] He stopped playing in 1982 when the symptoms of a benign essential tremor had begun to affect the use of his hands.[166]

Byrd appeared in the Civil War movie Gods and Generals in 2003 along with former Virginia senator George Allen. Both played Confederate States officers.[167]

Published writingEdit

  • 1989. The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol. 1: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate. ISBN 0-16-006391-4.
  • 1991. The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol. 2: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate. ISBN 0-16-006405-8.
  • 1993. The Senate, 1789–1989: Historical Statistics, 1789–1992, Vol. 4. ISBN 0-16-063256-0.
  • 1995. The Senate, 1789–1989: Classic Speeches, 1830–1993, Vol. 3. ISBN 0-16-063257-9.
  • 1995. Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism. ISBN 0-16-058996-7.
  • 2004. Losing America: Confronting A Reckless and Arrogant Presidency. ISBN 0-393-05942-1.
  • 2004. We Stand Passively Mute: Senator Robert C. Byrd's Iraq Speeches. ISBN 0-9755749-0-6.
  • 2005. Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields. ISBN 1-933202-00-9.
  • 2008. Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader. ISBN 0-312-38302-9.

Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative StudiesEdit

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."[168] 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." [169]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b Kellman, Laurie (November 18, 2009). "Senator Robert C. Byrd is Longest-Serving Lawmaker in Congress". Archived from the original on November 21, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Tom Cohen (November 18, 2009). "West Virginia's Byrd becomes the longest-serving member of Congress". CNN. 
  4. ^ Holley, Joe (June 28, 2010). "The Washington Post – Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92; West Virginia lawmaker was the longest serving member of Congress in history". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  5. ^ "U.S. Rep. Dingell is longest-serving member of Congress in history". UPI. June 7, 2013. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  6. ^ Memorial Addresses and Other Tributes Held in Honor of Robert C. Byrd, Late a Senator from West Virginia. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. 2012. p. 46. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "BYRD, Robert Carlyle, (1917–2010)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 22, 2009. 
  8. ^ Woodward, Calvin (June 28, 2010). "The Associated Press: Byrd's passions: Poetry, power and home-state pork". Google. Retrieved May 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Pork or progress? Either way, Byrd changed WVa – Yahoo! News". August 6, 2009. Archived from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2010. 
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  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Pianin, Eric (June 19, 2005). "A Senator's Shame: Byrd, in His New Book, Again Confronts Early Ties to KKK". The Washington Post. pp. A01. Retrieved October 3, 2006. 
  12. ^ Kiely, Kathy (June 23, 2003). "Senator takes on White House and wins fans". USA Today. Retrieved June 28, 2010. 
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  14. ^ Fischer, Karin (March 31, 2006). "Erma Byrd recalled for steadfast nature, Senator's wife to be buried beside grandson in Virginia tomorrow". Charleston Daily Mail. Retrieved March 10, 2009. 
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  23. ^ Holley, Joe (June 28, 2010). "Sen. Robert Byrd dead at 92; West Virginia lawmaker was the longest serving member of Congress in history". Washington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
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Further readingEdit

  • Corbin, David A. The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd's Encounters with Eleven U.S. Presidents (Dulles: Potomac, 2012) 365 pp.
  • Carlson, Peter. "Robert Byrd Consorts With a KKK Grand Dragon," American History (2011) 46#3 pp 18–19.

External linksEdit