Political Truths

Robert Byrd, Democrats, and the KKK

June 30, 2010

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Robert Byrd, Democrats, and the KKK

Robert Byrd, after living nearly as long as Methuselah and having served in the US Senate since shortly after Brutus stabbed Caesar, has died. Throughout his unpardonably lengthy stint as a public servant, he represented the rollingly rural hills of West Virginia, America’s third-whitest state.

Upon his death, Byrd was the only living member of Congress known to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But despite that, and despite his white-knuckled opposition to Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, and his characterization of MLK as a “trouble-maker,” and his impenitent use of the “N-word” (i.e., “nigger”) on TV as recently as 2001—his public legacy remains only slightly tarnished rather than the character-murder he’d have faced if, say, he’d been a Republican. Since he apologized, and since he was a Democrat, he’s been forgiven.

After all, Byrd claimed to have been affiliated with the Klan for only a year. Then again, it was enough time for him to have ascended to the roles of Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops, both of which sound frighteningly authoritative to me, who has never been so much as invited to a Klan meeting. At least three years after Byrd purportedly severed ties with the dastardly Hate Group, he wrote a letter to a Grand Wizard in which he stated, “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.” Byrd also didn’t seem all too fond of darkies when, in opposing integration of the US Armed Forces, he wrote, “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.”

A full two decades after leaving the Klan, Byrd led the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, foaming and frothing and fulminating for over 14 hours until Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen—a Republican and one of the law’s authors—invoked cloture and passed the bill through Byrd’s intolerantly knobby knees. By the by, a much higher quotient of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than did Democrats. Same thing happened during the next year’s Voting Rights Act.

“Truth is, the Democrats had been rolling with their own ‘Southern Strategy’ for a full century prior to Nixon’s presidency. But unlike Nixon, their strategy involved beatings and lynchings and voter fraud.”

I’ve often heard the terms “Republican” and “Klansman” used as if they were synonymous. But who actually birthed the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, the Red Shirts, and the countless other white-supremacist organizations who terrorized, torched, and lynched blacks during and after Reconstruction?

Though hearing this news might hit you like a knee to the groin, these mobs were all organized and supported by the Democrats—at a time, mind you, when nearly all black voters were Republicans and the Party of Lincoln was electing black legislators in, um, spades.

Who wrote the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws? Democrats. Who fought against the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments? Democrats. Who consistently opposed anti-lynching legislation? Democrats. Who endorsed Anglo-Saxon destiny and white racial purity? Democrats. Who came up with the poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and wholesale disfranchisement of the poor? Democrats, And which party did the Solid White South vote for starting from Reconstruction all the way up to the 1960s? Democrats, Democrats, Democrats.

Of course, you never hear about any of that. The way history is spun these days, Richard Nixon cynically concocted racial politics with his “Southern Strategy” sometime around 1970. Truth is, the Democrats had been rolling with their own “Southern Strategy” for a full century prior to Nixon’s presidency. But unlike Nixon, their strategy involved beatings and lynchings and voter fraud.

Who was that dude who opposed those integrated lunch counters in South Carolina? Why, it was Democratic Senator Ernest Hollings. Who stood in front of an Alabama schoolhouse in 1963 and proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”? That was Alabama Governor George Wallace—also a Democrat. Who was that fella who wielded an axe handle at Negroes and permanently closed his Atlanta restaurant rather than serve them? That would be Lester Maddox, a Democrat who eventually became Georgia’s governor. And who used his own state police to block the integration of a Little Rock high school all the way back in ’57? We all know the answer to that one— Democratic Arkansas Governor Orval “Born With a Racist-Sounding Name” Faubus.

“But that was then and this is now,” you say. Yes, yes, I get it—times have changed. These days, the Democrats are all about Ghetto Luv. But for a huge chunk of their history, they were the Klan’s Best Friend. And through it all, they’ve been so fixated on race, it’s as if they’ve impaled themselves with it.

I give props to the Democrats for successfully selling the Big Lie that they always have been, and will always remain, the post-racial party. By casting Republicans—a group founded in 1854 primarily to end slavery—as The Racist Party, the Democrats appear to have pulled off one of the most impressive cases of large-scale guilt-projection in political history. Really, it took a jumbo-sized set of donkey balls to accomplish what they’ve done.

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