Birthday: November 20, 1917
Died At Age: 92
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Robert Carlyle Byrd, Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.
Born in: North Wilkesboro
Famous as: Politician
political ideology: Political party - Democratic
Spouse/Ex-: Erma Ora James
father: Titus Byrd
mother: Vlurma Byrd
children: Marjorie Byrd, Mona Byrd
Died on: June 28, 2010
place of death: Fairfax
U.S. State: North Carolina
education: American University, Marshall University, Washington College of Law, Mountain State University, University of Charleston, Concord University, George Washington University Law School
Who was Robert Byrd?
Robert Carlyle Byrd was an eminent 20th century American politician. His encyclopedic knowledge about the working of the Senate earned him great respect from his fellow legislators. He served the nation as a member of the United States Congress from 1953 to 2010. This made him the longest serving Congressman in the history of the country. In his youth, he was an active member of Ku Klux Klan and occupied the top post of the local chapter. When in Senate, he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 14 long hours. However, later he regretted his anti black stance and publicly apologized for it. In spite of that, he could never get rid of the taint. That he managed to direct huge amount of federal loan to his state was another bone of contention. In spite of that, he was a popular and respected leader and many legislators considered him as their mentor. During his long political career, Robert Byrd never stopped to work for the improvement of his state. Yet, he was equally involved in national as well as international issues. His position against Iraq War earned praise from many liberals.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert Carlyle Byrd was born on November 20, 1917 as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr., in North Carolina. His father’s name was Cornelius Calvin Sale Sr. and his mother was Ada Mae Kirby.
Ada Mae died when Calvin Jr. was only ten months old. To fulfill her wish, his father handed him over to his relatives Titus and Vlurma Byrd. They changed his name to Robert Carlyle Byrd.
Robert spent his childhood in the coal mining region, located in the southern part of West Virginia. He studied in Mark Twain High School in Tams. After graduating from there he joined Beckley College. Later he shifted to Concord University, but could not complete his education.
In 1940, he became an active member of Ku Klux Klan and recruited 150 young men to form a new chapter. Klan officials noticed his natural talent for leadership and pointed it out to him. Robert saw a new light.
Until then young Robert had never thought of politics as a career option; but from then on he began to think of joining politics. However, he had to wait six more years for that. Meanwhile, he kept himself employed by various means.
In his youth, Robert C Byrd worked as an attendant at a gas station, clerk at a grocery store, welder at the shipyard and also a butcher. By and By, he lost interest in the Ku Klux Klan and began to distance himself from the organization. Yet, he remained a staunch segregationist.
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Robert C Byrd entered the political arena by winning a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, the lower house in the West Virginia Legislature. Here he represented the Raleigh County from 1947 to 1950. He was next elected to the upper house and served the West Virginia Senate until 1952.
In 1952, Robert entered national politics by winning a seat in the United States House of Representative on the nomination of the Democratic Party. However, the term was short-lived. He was reelected to the post twice more and altogether served the House from January 1953 to 1959.
In 1958, Robert C. Byrd was elected to the United States Senate on the nomination of the Democratic Party and went on to serve the house from January 3, 1959 to June 28, 2010. Over the course of time, he became a powerful member of the Senate and held many important posts.
Senator Byrd served as the Senate Majority Whip from January 1971 to January 1977; Senate Minority Leader from January 1981 to January 1987; Senate Majority Leader from January 1977 to January 1981 and again from January 1987 to January 1989.
During his long career, Senator Byrd served as the President pro tempore of the United States Senate four times. He occupied the position from January 3, 1989 to January 3, 1995; from January 3, 2001 to January 20, 2001; from June 6, 2001 to January 3, 2003 and finally from January 3, 2007 to June 28, 2010.
It is to be noted that while the Vice President of United States is the President of the Senate, President pro tempore carries on the work in his absence. This makes him the second highest ranking official in Senate.
Byrd was also the President pro tempore emeritus of the United States Senate from January 2003 to January 2007. However, it is more or less an honorary position, but carries great prestige.
In addition, he was the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee from January 3, 1989 to January 3, 1995; January 3, 2001 to January 20, 2001; again from June 6, 2001 to January 3, 2003 and finally from January 3, 2007 to January 3, 2009 .
Throughout his long career, Robert C. Byrd worked tirelessly for the development of West Virginia, which was at that time one of the poorest states of the United States of America. He successfully steered billions of federal dollars towards its development and claimed many federal projects for his state.
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Senator Byrd was also instrumental in building number of highways, dams and educational institutes across his state. However, his critics mocked his efforts as ‘Pork Barrel Spending’ and called him the ‘King of Pork’.
It was because of Senator Byrd’s insistence, proceeding at the Senate began to be televised to the general public. To familiarize the public about the inner workings of the Senate, he also gave series of lectures on the inner working of the house.
He also published ‘The Senate: 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate’ in four volumes. In addition to that, he had five other published writings on various topics.
Awards & Achievements
For the 1st volume of ‘The Senate: 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate’, Senator Byrd received the Henry Adams Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government. The prize marked it as "an outstanding contribution to research in the history of the Federal Government”.
In 2004, Byrd was awarded the first Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service by American Historical Association.
In 2007, Byrd received the Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians.
Personal Life & Legacy
Robert C Byrd married Ema Ora James on May 29, 1937. The couple had two children Mona and Marjorie Byrd. They also had six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Ema died in 2006.
In old age, Byrd suffered from essential tremor, which is a common movement disorder and was confined to wheelchair. In spite of that, he remained active and attended most official functions. He also attended Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon on January 20, 2009.
Senator Byrd died on June 28, 2010, at the age of 92, due to natural causes at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Although he is no more highways and institutions like Robert C. Byrd Highway, Robert C. Byrd Freeway, Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourism, Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center, Robert C. Byrd Drive, Robert C. Byrd Hardwood Technologies Center etc will continue to bear his legacy for a long time to come.
In 1953, while already a member of the House of Representatives, Robert Byrd began to study law; attending night classes at American University Washington College of Law. However, he received his diploma ten year later in 1963 from President John F. Kennedy. He was by that time a member of the Senate.
Byrd later decided to continue his studies. In 1994, he graduated from Marshall University with highest honor and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He was then about 77 years old.
Although in his youth he opposed desegregation and civil rights, he later realized his folly. In an interview to the Washington Post he claimed that he changed his views after he joined the Baptist Church. However, many are of the opinion that he modified his stances only after realizing that to survive in national politics he must alter his segregationist views.