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It has been announced in shocked, sober, darkened tones, that that most senior member of the Senatorial gerontocracy, Robert Byrd, has died today after a short illness, at the age of 92.

The Senator for West Virginia -who was born up in the coal hewing mountains and represented these working miners rather than coming from the plantation lowland- has been described as the last of his generation, of those who were Statesmen as well as Senators, “gentlemen” who “knew the rules” and were courteous to all.

If you are black you might beg to differ. 

Bob Byrd has a somewhat chequered career as regards black people.  In his youth which admittedly was a very long time ago he not only joined the KKK but actually set up a branch from scratch and was its “top officer” and prime recruiter.  And doing this at the age of 24 in 1942 was hardly the silly act of a young man.  Maybe he liked the uniforms, was keen on the opportunities to “network” and meet other young people, or maybe he just liked barbeques.

He was certainly quite unequivocal about his views at the time.  He stated “ I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro at my side…Rather I should die a thousand times and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than see this beloved country of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds“

Ringing stuff.  Certainly difficult to walk away from later saying you were being misquoted.

He did even better by voting down the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment.  He filibustered to block the bill doing every trick known to Dixicrats to block this measure.  He wasn’t anti black you see – oh no heaven forefend!- he was just standing up for States Rights.  Which is kind of where the whole mess started right?

He retracted all this in later years following the constant criticism.  His apologists gush away today on a dozen blogs that he “grew” with the century and “developed” his views maturing with the years like the nation itself.  As though he was some ancient prickly bush stuck in the senate and impervious to being eradicated. 

Well maybe so, but I’d believe it a little more if he didn’t just go and refocus his antediluvian attitudes to Gay rights.

He didn’t like gays and did his best to stop them serving in the forces.  Now without the blacks and the gays who did he see fighting for America in the Vietnam War?

He didn’t like Gay marriages either.

Indeed if you really thought he had reformed his views on black people you might ask why he voted against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas when they were proposed for being Judges on the United States Supreme Court?.

So why is this blog interested in the fascistic old fossil from West Virginia? As far as family is concerned he is not a member of that elite family Byrd and his birth name was Cornelius Calvin Sale jr. 

He was however a historian of note, given to haranguing his fellow Senators with lessons from Roman History.  It’s a shame they chose not to pay heed, as he was definitely onto something here.  He saw the danger of power passing from the legislature (with its heavy oligarchical weighting which we have been examining) to the executive branch (the President).  He recognised the role that a collapsing oligarchy played in tipping the Roman model, which has strong resemblances to the American, into dictatorship.

For this last at least his voice will be missed.

Copyright David Macadam 2010

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