Taking on Sen. Byrd at home


Don Surber, who is both a columnist for the Charleston Daily Mail and also a blogger, has taken—on Senator Robert Byrd, an act which probably qualifies him for some sort of medal for courage. Here is an excerpt from today's column:

...Byrd failed to mention his most famous filibuster. The senator showed a modesty previously unseen in a state where at last count 32 projects bear his name.

His real life experience is far more insightful. When Sen. Byrd went to Washington, it was not for the high—minded idealism of the fictional Mr. Smith.

On June 9, 1964, just before 8 p.m., Byrd began the longest speech of his career. For 14 hours and 13 minutes he spoke. At 49, he did not seem to need breaks.

Byrd and most Southern Democrats had succeeded for 102 days in abusing Senate rules to delay passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, just as they had delayed civil rights legislation in 1963, 1962, 1961 and so on.

Their opposition to the enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments was hidden beneath a cloak of Southern gentility as phony as a snowman in Miami.

His purpose in speaking was not to debate but to drown out debate. He was not trying to sway anyone. At one point only three other people were in the room, and one of them was an Associated Press reporter. Still Byrd talked.

As Byrd droned on, Republicans worked with Democrats. Civil rights had split the Democratic Party. Republican support in the House —— only 34 of the 172 Republican congressmen had opposed it —— had brought the measure to the Senate that February.

But Byrd and the boys played the Senate rules like a fiddle. With summer recess coming, only Republicans could save civil rights legislation.

Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois stepped forward. He delivered the votes. As soon as Byrd sat down, the Senate voted 71—29 to end debate.

It was truly bipartisan approval. Democrat Clair Engle had himself wheeled in from the hospital to cast his vote. He could not speak, but the nod of his head was eloquent.

Byrd's words may be forgotten, but history does preserve the reaction of Willard Brown, president of the Charleston NAACP:

"The one—man talkathon staged by Sen. Byrd for 14 hours last night and this morning indicates the extent to which a mind warped with hate and prejudice will go —— even in the hallowed halls of Congress.

"Sen. Byrd has not only done his state and our nation a great disservice, but has in addition exposed his family and friends to great embarrassment. The shame and stigma that attaches to his continuing acts against civil rights legislation is positive evidence that he is still a present—day advocate of the principles of the Ku Klux Klan.

Nicely done.

Thomas Lifson  3 03 05