<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=769125799912420&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">
About Our People Legal Stuff Careers
Robert Byrd, Challenger

As Confederate monuments topple, some question why this former U.S. senator is left out


During Ray Smock's career he said he got to know former U.S. Senator Robert Byrd well and grew to admire him.

"Anyone who brings up his past and points a finger at him as being a member of the Klan and all that sort of thing, all I can say is what he said, that he apologized for it" Smock, Director of the Robert Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education said.

"What I saw was a great senator, a great defender of the United States Constitution, a great supporter of his home state," he said.

Sen. Byrd is known as the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, representing West Virginia from 1959 until his death in 2010, but also as a previous member of the Ku Klux Klan.

"As a Democrat in the South, and West Virginia was basically a Southern state, he was a segregationist," Smock said.

As the discussion of removing Confederate monuments continues because some consider the statues to be a symbol of racism, Andrew Wilkow, host of the radio show the Wilkow Majority, said he wondered why Sen. Byrd has not been part of this discussion.

Robert C. Byrd Science and Technology Center
The front of the Robert C. Byrd Science and Technology Center.

“He filibustered the 64th Civil Rights legislation. I don't understand how history gives this man a free pass," Wilkow said.

"If we're being consistent. If we are purging our society of these racist and segregationist symbols, things that evoke horrible feelings among a percentage of the population, then we have to be honest," he said.

The movement to remove Confederate monuments started in 2015, but gained momentum earlier this year after a August protest centered around the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.

Charlottesville was a perfect storm for violence

Since then, at least 25 cities have removed Confederate statues, including New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Nashville and New Orleans.

However, not all of the statues removed have direct ties to the Confederacy. In August, Annapolis removed a statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857 that kept in place that African Americans were not U.S. citizens.

Martin Henson, who is a co-organizer of the Boston chapter for Black Lives Matter, has been part of the advocacy to remove Confederate monuments.

"Monuments towards the enslavement or celebrating the enslavement of African people should come down and be replaced with celebrations of our people and our culture,' Henson said.

Henson said he did not know that much about Sen. Byrd, but if it was true he had a connection to the KKK, he would want monuments to the senator to be removed.

During Sen. Byrd’s career, Smock said Sen. Byrd brought billions of federal dollars to his home state of West Virginia for things like roads and other infrastructure projects, and now nearly 50 buildings and highways are named after him.

Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies
The front to the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

"You will find various entities, hospitals, wings of hospitals, and all kinds of institutions, especially around universities, that bear Senator Byrd's name. Should we take all of those down because back in the 1940s he was a member of the Klan?" Smock said.

Smock is in favor of removing Confederate monuments if they are on public land, but said monuments should be left alone if they are on private land or in museums.

He also said there is a stark difference between the debate over removing Confederate monuments and things named after Byrd, and that is because Byrd apologized for his time in the Klan and worked to make up for it during his career.

"He said it would be an albatross around his neck, a burden he would have to bear, and that some people would never forgive him for it. But most people did," Smock said.

However, Henson said he thinks Byrd has been left out of the movement because there is a lack of knowledge about the history of racism in the U.S. He said people focus on Robert E. Lee because that is more mainstream, and that they simply do not know about Sen. Byrd's past.

If Confederate monuments are removed, should monuments to Sen. Robert Byrd be too?
Tell us what you think!

Wilkow said he is not an advocate for removing any statues, but if they are going to be removed he wants there to be consistency.

"We have people who say, 'You have to be honest about the scars of our history.' Okay then, let's be honest about all of them. No holds barred. No scar barred. No historical event barred. Everything's on the table. Everything will be taught. That's at least fair," Wilkow said.

And all three seemed to agree and said either way, removing statues is not a long term solution.

"You can remove the statues, but you have to get rid of all the stuff that comes with it," Henson said.

Check out these related Circa stories:

WWII veterans react to white supremacists bearing Nazi flags in Charlottesville
The University of Texas is removing its Confederate statues
Did you know there are Confederate statues in the US Capitol? Here's why.

Read Comments
Facebook Twitter Instagram Pinterest Linked In List Menu Enlarge Gallery Info Menu Close Angle Down Angle Up Angle Left Angle Right Grid Grid Play Align Left Search Youtube Mail Mail Angle Down Bookmark