Buried in the New York Times obituary, as with others, was the fact that Byrd not only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan, holding the titles of Kleagle and Exaulted Cyclops.
Mr. Byrd’s political life could be traced to his early involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, an association that almost thwarted his career and clouded it intermittently for years afterward.In March 1968, after the Memphis TN garbage worker's strike turned violent, Byrd was quoted as saying:
In the early 1940s, he organized a 150-member klavern, or chapter, of the Klan in Sophia, W.Va., and was chosen its leader at a meeting. After the meeting, Joel L. Baskin, the Klan’s grand dragon for the region, suggested that Mr. Byrd use his “talents for leadership” by going into politics.
“Suddenly, lights flashed in my mind!” Mr. Byrd later wrote. “Someone important had recognized my abilities.”
Mr. Byrd insisted that his klavern had never conducted white-supremacist marches or engaged in racial violence. He said in his autobiography that he had joined the
Klan because he shared its anti-Communist creed and wanted to be associated with the leading people in his part of West Virginia. He conceded, however, that he also “reflected the fears and prejudices” of the time.
Martin Luther King fled the scene. He took to his heels and disappeared leaving it to others to cope with the destructive forces he had helped to unleash. And I hope that well-meaning Negro leaders and individuals in the Negro community in Washington will now take a new look at this man who gets other people into trouble, and then takes off like a scared rabbit.Byrd also voted against the elevation of two blacks, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, to the Supreme Court, as well as Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State. He spent his Senate career naming most West Virginia after him, thanks to bringing Federal money there for pork projects.