Today Carte Goodwin was sworn in as the 59th Democratic US Senator. Within fifteen minutes of holding the position, he ended a filibuster, extending jobless benefits to the unemployed. Why am I mentioning this? Because Mr. Goodwin succeeded the late Robert Byrd. I didn't get a chance to write about his recent death, so I figured today was as a good a day as any. Byrd was eulogized by none other than President Obama. Former President Bill Clinton as well as Vicki Kennedy (wife of the late Ted Kennnedy) spoke at his memorial. By many accounts, Byrd became a changed man. Regretting his earlier days as a racist, turning into possibly the most revered senator in United States History.
And in case you didn't know, Robert Byrd was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. A while back I posted this quote of his that is published on Wikipedia:
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.
All of this brings up an interesting question. Should a former KKK member be treated with such reverence? I think that question was missing from the dialogue around his death. Sure people mentioned his former membership in the KKK but only as an afterthought. The vast majority of ink written about Byrd after his death has been about his astute knowledge of the constitution, his countless adoring supporters, and his incredible electoral endurance.
I think if you say "Byrd was in the KKK, BUT he changed and became a beacon of light for the common man", you've glossed over a very important part of this sentence. You should be saying "Robert Byrd was the longest standing US Senator and was a member of the KKK, WOW the motherfuckin' KK goddamn K!" You should talk about the hate that he spewed for years as he recruited dozens of people to join the Klan and mention that he was elected to the US House of Representatives in a district that had no problem voting for a (recently) former KKK member. You might also want to mention that Mr. Byrd became a US Senator by defeating a Senator (William Chapman Revercomb) that was famous for supporting Civil Rights in a racially charged election. You should definitely mention that he voted against The Civil Rights Act, the most important piece of legislation for Black Americans since Reconstruction, some twenty years after he quit the motherfuckin' KK goddamn K. Finally make sure you mention that he told the New York Times in 1997 that this would be the advice he would give aspiring politicians: "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." To me those sound like the words of someone who was more concerned with the what his membership in the KKK cost him, than what it may have meant to others.
After all of that you should probably ask one more question. How many lynchings was Robert Byrd involved in directly or indirectly?
I think it is important to ask the appropriate questions. And in response to my original question, Should a former KKK member be treated with such reverence? I think no. But if you think otherwise, that's fine as long as you tell the whole story. If you gloss over his membership in the motherfuckin' KK goddamn K, than I think you are a coward and a failure.
But that's just me.