ENG: Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr.; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was a United States Senator from West Virginia. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a U.S. Representative from 1953 until 1959 and as a U.S. Senator from 1959 to 2010. He was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress. 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. Byrd led the Democratic caucus as Senate Majority Leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989, and as Senate Minority Leader from 1981 to 1987. From 1989 to 2010 he served as the President pro tempore of the United States Senate when the Democratic Party had a majority, and as President pro tempore emeritus during periods of Republican majority beginning in 2001. As President pro tempore, he was third in the line of presidential succession, behind the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He also served as the Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations from 1989 to 1995, 2001 to 2003, and 2007 to 2009, giving him extraordinary influence over federal spending. Byrd's seniority and leadership of the Appropriations Committee enabled him to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia. Critics derided his efforts as pork spending to appeal to his own constituents. He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, but later backed civil rights measures and criticized the Iraq War. He was briefly a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, but later left the group and denounced racial intolerance.
Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr. in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on November 20, 1917.
When he was one year old, his mother, Ada Mae (née Kirby), died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father, Cornelius Calvin Sale, dispersed the family children among relatives. Titus and Vlurma Byrd, the infant's uncle and aunt, were given custody, adopted him, renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd, and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia.
Byrd was valedictorian of Mark Twain High School and attended Beckley College, Concord College, Morris Harvey College, and Marshall University, all in West Virginia. He was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
Ku Klux Klan
In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
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." Byrd held the titles Kleagle (recruiter) and Exalted Cyclops. When it came time to elect the "Exalted Cyclops", the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.
In 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,
In 1946 or 1947, 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." 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.
In 1997, Byrd told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics but also: "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." 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." 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."
Final-term Senate highlights
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. In recognition of the speech, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Byrd their 2007 Person of the Year.
For 2007, Byrd was deemed the fourteenth-most powerful senator, as well as the twelfth-most powerful Democratic senator.
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 percent, Byrd said, "Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support." 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!" Obama lost West Virginia (by 13 percent) 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).
On February 26, 2009, Byrd was one of two Democrats to vote against the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, which added a voting seat in the United States House of Representatives for the District of Columbia and add a seat for Utah (Democrat Max Baucus of Montana also cast a "nay" vote).
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!"
Health issues and death
Byrd's health declined through 2008, including several hospital admissions.
On January 20, 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure during Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon and was taken away in an ambulance. Byrd, seated at the same table, became distraught and was himself removed to his office. Byrd's office reported that he was fine. On May 18, Byrd was admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fever due to a "minor infection", prolonged by a staphylococcal infection. Byrd was released on June 30, 2009.
Byrd's final hospital stay began on June 27, 2010 at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax County, Virginia. Robert Byrd died at approximately 3 a.m. EDT the next day at age 92 from natural causes.
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." 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." 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." 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."
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. Byrd was then flown to Charleston, West Virginia where he lay in repose in the Lower Rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol. 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. 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.
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.
On September 30, 2010 Congress appropriated $193,400 to be paid equally among Sen. 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.