In an apparent round of “I know you are but what am I” on the election playground, Donald Trump responded to accusations of bigotry and racism this week by drudging up a somewhat embarrassing Hillary Clinton story of racism that happened in the 1940s and 1950s. Here is a video of Hillary Clinton praising West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd upon his passing in 2010.
Robert Byrd contributed to the founding of the Ku Klux Klan chapter in his home town of Sophia, WV in the 1940s. “After about a year, I became disinterested, quit paying my dues, and dropped my membership in the organization,” Robert Byrd said in 1952 of his short involvement with the KKK. So that was more than 65 years ago that Byrd was involved with the KKK. Since then he was one of the longest serving Congressmen in history, serving for 57 years until his death in 2010.
He has repeatedly apologized for his participation in the organization, and it dogged him throughout his political career. “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened,” Byrd said in his memoir.
It is disingenuous for Trump to retweet the statement by Diamond and Silk using the present tense for Byrd’s KKK membership, saying that “she said a KKK member was her mentor.” That implies that he is a current member, not a lifetime congressmen who disavowed the Ku Klux Klan when Truman was president and later became an advocate for civil rights.
The NAACP has come to the defense of Clinton, saying that Robert Byrd’s life should be “championed.”
“Senator Byrd reflects the transformative power of this nation,” stated NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Senator Byrd went from being an active member of the KKK to a being a stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and many other pieces of seminal legislation that advanced the civil rights and liberties of our country.”
What is more American than this story? A man sees the folly of his racist youth, and spends his entire life making up for it. He spent 57 years serving the public in Congress as a champion of civil rights, even receiving a “100% rating” from the NAACP.