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Robert Carlyle Byrd (born November 20, 1917) is the senior United States Senator from West Virginiamarker, and a member and former Senate Leader of the Democratic Party. Byrd has been a Senator since January 3, 1959, and is the longest-serving Senator as well as the longest-serving member in congressional history. He has been the Dean of the Senate since 2003. He is also the oldest current member of the Congress, and is the first person to serve uninterrupted for half a century as a U.S. senator.

Byrd is President pro tempore of the United States Senate, a position that puts him third in the line of presidential succession, behind Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also held this post previously from 1989 to 1995, briefly in January 2001, and from June 2001 to January 2003. In this role, Sen. Byrd signs bills passed by Congress before they are sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed.

Byrd holds a wide variety of both liberal and conservative political views. A lifelong Democrat, Byrd did not leave the party as its views shifted from social conservatism to social liberalism. He has also held many leadership positions: Senate Conference Secretary, Majority Whip, Minority Leader and twice Majority Leader. He is the only former party leader currently in the Senate.

Early life

Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr., in North Wilkesboromarker, North Carolinamarker, in 1917. When he was one year old, his mother, Ada Mae Kirby, died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father, Cornelius Calvin Sale, dispersed the family children among relatives. Sale Jr. was given to the custody of Titus and Vlurma Byrd, his uncle and aunt, who renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia.

Byrd was valedictorian of Mark Twain High School and, in 1937, he married his high-school sweetheart, Erma Ora James. He eventually attended Beckley College, Concord College, Morris Harvey Collegemarker, and Marshall Collegemarker, all in West Virginia. He worked as a gas-station attendant, grocery-store clerk, shipyard welder during World War II, and butcher, before he won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946, representing Raleigh Countymarker from 1947 to 1950. In 1950, he was elected to the West Virginia Senate, where he served from 1951 to 1952. After being elected to the United States House of Representatives, he began night classes at American Universitymarker's Washington College of Law in 1953, but did not receive his degree until a decade later by which time he was a United States Senator. He also studied at The George Washington University Law School. He would not, however, receive a degree until 1994 when he graduated from Marshall Universitymarker.

In 1951, then–State Delegate Robert Byrd was among the official witnesses of the execution of Harry Burdette and Fred Painter, which was the first use of the electric chair in West Virginia. Capital punishment in that state was abolished in 1965, the last execution having occurred in 1959.

Participation in the Ku Klux Klan

Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan when he was 24 in 1942. His local chapter unanimously elected him Exalted Cyclops.

According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, "You have a talent for leadership, Bob... The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd later recalled, "suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did." Byrd held the titles Kleagle (recruiter) and Exalted Cyclops.

In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippimarker Senator Theodore Bilbo:

When running for the United States House of Representatives in 1952, he announced "After about a year, I became disinterested, quit paying my dues, and dropped my membership in the organization. During the nine years that have followed, I have never been interested in the Klan." He said he had joined the Klan because he felt it offered excitement and was anti-communist. However, in 1946 or 1947 he wrote a letter to a Grand Wizard stating, "The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation."

In 1997, he told an interviewer he would encourage young people to become involved in politics, but to "Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don't get that albatross around your neck. Once you've made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena." In his latest autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a member because he "was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision—a jejune and immature outlook—seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions." Byrd also said, in 2005,

Congressional service

In 1952, Byrd was elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives for West Virginia's 6th Congressional District, succeeding E. H. Hedrick, who had decided to step down to run for Governor of West Virginia. He was reelected to the House twice, and served in total from January 3, 1953 to 1959. Byrd defeated Republican incumbent W. Chapman Revercomb for the United States Senate in 1958—a campaign in which Revercomb's record supporting civil rights became an issue which played in Byrd's favor. He has been reelected eight times. He was West Virginia's junior senator for his first four terms; his colleague from 1959 to 1985 was Jennings Randolph, who had been elected on the same day in a special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Matthew Neely.

While Byrd faced some vigorous Republican opposition in the past, he has not faced truly serious opposition since freshman congressman Cleve Benedict took a run at him in 1982. He has since won by comfortable margins. Despite his tremendous popularity in the state, he has run unopposed only once, in 1976. On two other occasions—in 1994 and 2000—he won all 55 of West Virginia's counties. In his reelection bid in 2000, he won all but seven of West Virginia's precincts. Shelley Moore Capito, a Congresswoman and the daughter of Byrd's longtime foe, former governor Arch Moore, Jr., briefly considered a challenge to Byrd in 2006, but decided against it.

In the 1960 Democratic Presidential election primaries, Byrd, a close Senate ally of Lyndon B. Johnson, endorsed and campaigned for Hubert Humphrey over front runner John F. Kennedy in the crucial West Virginia primary. However, Kennedy won the state's primary and, eventually, the general election.

The record of public service longevity

An earlier portrait of Robert Byrd

Byrd was elected to an unprecedented ninth consecutive term in the Senate on November 7, 2006. He became the longest-serving senator in American history on June 12, 2006, surpassing Strom Thurmond of South Carolinamarker with 17,327 days of service. On November 18, 2009, he became the longest serving member in congressional history with 56 years 320 days of service, passing Carl Hayden, an Arizona politician. Previously, he had held the record for the longest unbroken tenure in the Senate. Considering his tenure as state legislator from 1947 to 1953, Byrd's service on the political front exceeds 60 years. Byrd, who has never lost an election, cast his 18,000th vote on June 21, 2007, the most of any senator in history.

Upon the death of former Senator George Smathers of Florida, on January 20, 2007, Byrd became the last living United States Senator from the 1950s. This means that not only is Byrd the only person in U.S. history to remain in the Senate for that entire period, but he has outlived every other Senator who had seniority over him. Byrd is the only surviving Senator to have voted on a bill giving statehood to a U.S. territory. He has served in the Senate longer than ten current colleagues of his have been alive, namely Bob Casey, Jr., Amy Klobuchar, Blanche Lincoln, John Thune, David Vitter, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand and George LeMieux, as well as former Senator John E. Sununu and current President Barack Obama.

Committee assignments

Filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Byrd joined with other Southern and border state Democrats to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964, personally filibustering the bill for 14 hours, a move he now says he regrets. Despite an 83 day filibuster in the Senate, both parties in Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Act, and President Johnson signed the bill into law. He also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968. In 2005, Byrd told The Washington Post that his membership in the Baptist church led to a change in his views. In the opinion of one reviewer, Byrd, along with other Southern and border state Democrats, came to realize that he would have to temper "his blatantly segregationist views" and move to the Democratic Party mainstream if he wanted to play a role nationally.

Because of his opposition to desegregation, Byrd was often regarded as a Dixiecrat, a member of this Democratic Party wing that opposed desegregation and civil rights imposed by the Federal Government. However, despite his early career in the KKK, Byrd was linked to such "Dixiecrat" Senators as John C. Stennis, J. William Fulbright or George Smathers, who based their segregationist positions on their conception of states' rights in contrast to, for example, James Eastland, who held a reputation as a committed racist.

Leadership roles

Detail of the Senate desk used by Democratic leaders, including Byrd
Byrd has been a member of the Senate Democratic leadership since 1967, when he was elected as secretary of the Senate Democratic Conference from 1967 to 1971. He became Senate Majority Whip, or the second-ranking Democrat, for six years beginning in 1971. From 1977 to 1989 Byrd was the leader of the Senate Democrats, serving as Senate Majority Leader from 1977 to 1981 and 1987 to 1989 and as Senate Minority Leader from 1981 to 1987.

In 1976, Byrd was the "favorite son" candidate in West Virginia's primary. His easy victory gave him control of the delegation to the national convention. Byrd had the inside track as majority whip, but focused most of his time on campaigning for the office of majority leader, more so than for re-election to the Senate, as he was virtually unopposed for his fourth term. By the time the vote for majority leader was at hand, he had it so wrapped up that his lone rival, Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, withdrew before the balloting took place.

Byrd is well known for steering federal dollars to West Virginia, one of the country's poorest states. He is called by some the "King of Pork." After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd sought to steer, over time, a total of $1 billion for public works in the state. He passed that mark in 1991, and the steady stream of funds for highways, dams, educational institutions, and federal agency offices has continued unabated over the course of his membership. More than thirty pending or existing federal projects bear Byrd's name. He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006 when he called himself "Big Daddy" at the dedication to the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center.

Byrd is also known for using his knowledge of parliamentary procedure: Before the "Reagan Revolution", Byrd frustrated Republicans with his encyclopedic knowledge of the inner workings of the Senate. From 1977 to 1979 he was described as "performing a procedural tap dance around the minority, outmaneuvering Republicans with his mastery of the Senate's arcane rules." In 1988, while Majority Leader, he moved a call of the Senate, which was adopted by the majority present, in order to have the Sergeant at Arms arrest members not in attendance. One member (Robert Packwood, R-Oregonmarker) was escorted back to the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms in order to obtain a quorum.

As the longest-serving Democratic Senator, Byrd has served as President pro tempore four times when his party has been in the majority: from 1989 until the Republicans won control of the Senate in 1995; for 17 days in early 2001, when the Senate was evenly split between parties and outgoing Vice President Al Gore broke the tie in favor of the Democrats; when the Democrats regained the majority in June 2001 after Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermontmarker left the Republican party to become an independent; and again in 2007, as a result of the 2006 Senate elections. In this capacity, Byrd is third in the line of presidential succession, currently behind Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Scholarships and TAH History Grants

In 1969, Byrd launched a Scholastic Recognition Award; he also began to present a savings bond to valedictorians from high schools, public and private, in West Virginia. In 1985 Congress approved the nation's only merit-based scholarship program funded through the U.S. Department of Education, which Congress later named in Byrd's honor. The Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program initially comprised a one-year, $1,500 award to students with "outstanding academic achievement" and who had been accepted for enrollment at an institution of higher learning. From 1993 onwards, the program began providing four-year scholarships; students who received the first-year scholarship then could apply for stipends for the next three years.

In 2002 Byrd secured unanimous approval for a major national initiative to strengthen the teaching of "traditional American history" in the K12 public schools. The Department of Education awards in competition $50 to $120 million a year to school districts (in sums of about $500,000 to $1 million). The money goes to teacher training programs, operated in conjunction with universities or museums, geared to improving the content skills of history teachers. Referred to as a "TAH Grant," these awards come under the “Learning the Lessons of American History” initiative to strengthen and improve the teaching of American history in the schools.

Senate historian

Byrd and Dr Richard Baker, a Senate historian
Television cameras were first introduced to the House of Representatives on March 19, 1979 with the launch of C-SPAN. Fearing that Americans only saw the Congress as the House of Representatives, Byrd believed that Senate proceedings should be televised to prevent the Senate from becoming the "invisible branch" of government. Thanks in part to Byrd's efforts, cameras came to the Senate floor in June 1986. To help introduce the public to the inner workings of the legislative process, Byrd launched a series of speeches based on his examination of the Roman Republic and the intent of the Framers. Byrd published a four-volume series on Senate history: The Senate: 1789–1989.

For that work, the American Historical Association, presented Byrd with the first Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service on January 8, 2004. The honorific award is intended to recognize individuals outside the academy "who have made a significant contribution to history." During the 1980s, he delivered a hundred speeches on the floor dealing with various aspects of the Senate's history, which were published in four volumes as The Senate, 1789–1989: Addresses on the History of the Senate (Government Printing Office, 1989–94). The first volume of his series won the Henry Adams Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government as "an outstanding contribution to research in the history of the Federal Government." He also published The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism (Government Printing Office, 1995).

Recent Senate highlights

On July 19, 2007, Byrd, a self-described dog lover, gave a 25-minute passionate speech in the Senate against dog fighting, in response to the indictment of football player Michael Vick. Byrd called dog fighting a "brutal, sadistic event motivated by barbarism of the worst sort and cruelty of the worst, worst, worst sadistic kind. One is left wondering: 'Who are the real animals: the creatures inside the ring, or the creatures outside the ring?'" In recognition of the speech, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Byrd their 2007 Person of the Year.

For 2007, Byrd was deemed the fourteenth-most powerful U.S. Senator, as well as the twelfth most powerful Democratic Senator.

Byrd with farmers from West Virginia
On May 19, 2008, Byrd released a statement endorsing Barack Obama (D-Illinoismarker) for President of the United States. One week after the West Virginia Democratic Primary, in which Hillary Clinton defeated Obama by 41.32 percent, Byrd said, "Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support." In a written statement, Byrd stated Obama was "a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq." When asked in October 2008 about the possibility that the issue of race would influence West Virginia voters, as Obama is an African-American, Byrd replied, "Those days are gone. Gone!" Obama went on to lose West Virginia (by 13 percent), but win the November 2008 presidential election.

On January 26, 2009, Byrd was one of only three Democrats to vote against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner to be United States Secretary of the Treasury (along with Russ Feingold of Wisconsinmarker and Tom Harkin of Iowamarker and Bernie Sanders of Vermontmarker).

On February 26, 2009 Byrd was one of only two Democrats to vote against the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009, which provided a voting seat in the United States House of Representatives for the District of Columbiamarker and added a seat for Utahmarker (fellow Democrat Max Baucus of Montanamarker also cast a "nay" vote). The bill passed 61-37 with one Senator not voting.

Political views

Voting record

Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd
On occasion, Byrd disagreed with President Bill Clinton's policies. Byrd initially said that the impeachment proceedings against Clinton should be taken seriously and conducted completely. Although he harshly criticized any attempt to make light of it, he made the motion to dismiss the charges against the president and effectively suspend proceedings. Even though he voted against both articles of impeachment, he was the sole Democrat to vote for the censure of Clinton. He strongly opposed Clinton's 1993 efforts to allow gays to serve in the military and has also supported efforts to limit gay marriage, in 1996 before with the pending passage of the Defense of Marriage Act he said The drive for same-sex marriage, is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal...Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.

However, he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, arguing that it was unnecessary because the states already had the power to ban gay marriages. However, when the amendment came to the Senate floor he was one of the two Democratic Senators who voted in favor of the cloture motion. He also opposes affirmative action.

He also voiced praise for George W. Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Likewise, Byrd supported the confirmation of Samuel Alito to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Like most Democrats, however, Byrd opposed Bush's tax cuts and his proposals to change the Social Security program. He is pro-choice and voted against the first ban on partial birth abortions in 1995, but voted for the bill on subsequent occasions. Byrd voted against Laci and Conner's Law, which strongly divided the supporters and opponents of legal abortion.

Byrd is opposed to the Flag Desecration Amendment, saying that, while he wants to protect the American flag, he believed that amending the constitution "is not the most expeditious way to protect this revered symbol of our Republic." In response to the amendment, Byrd has cosponsored S. 1370, a bill that prohibits destruction or desecration of the flag by anyone trying to incite violence or causing a breach of the peace. It also provides that anyone who steals, damages, or destroys a flag on federal property, whether a flag owned by the federal government or a private group or individual, can be imprisoned for up to two years, or can be fined up to $250,000, or both.

In 2003, Byrd voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which prohibits a form of late-term abortion known as partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, Byrd offered an amendment that would limit the personnel in Plan Colombia, but was defeated in the Senate.

Byrd received a 65 percent vote rating from the League of Conservation Voters for his support of environmentally friendly legislation. Additionally, he received a "liberal" rating of 65.5% by the National Journal — higher than six other Democratic senators.

In 2006, Byrd received 67 percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union for supporting rights-related legislation.

In 2009, Byrd was one of three Democrats to oppose the confirmation of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner. Geithner was confirmed 60-34. After missing nearly two months of votes due to being hospitalized, Byrd returned to the senate floor on July 21 to vote against the elimination of funding for the F-22 fighter plane.

Race and race relations

Portrait of then-Majority Leader Byrd
In a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:

Byrd's use of the term "white nigger" created immediate controversy. When asked about it, Byrd responded,

Byrd has since explicitly renounced his earlier views on racial segregation. Byrd said that he regrets filibustering and voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and would change it if he had the opportunity. He has stated that joining the KKK was "the greatest mistake I ever made". Byrd has also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think," said Byrd, adding he came to realize that black people love their children as much as he does his.

Byrd is the only Senator to have voted against the nominations of both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Courtmarker, the only two African-Americans to have been nominated to the court. Marshall's confirmation vote came in 1967 when Byrd and other segregationist senators were opposed to the idea of a black integrationist being placed on the court. In order to gain evidence against Marshall's appointment, Byrd asked FBImarker Director J. Edgar Hoover to look into what Byrd believed to be the possibility that Marshall had either connections to communists or a potential communist past. Byrd opposed Thomas because Byrd stated that he was offended by Thomas using the phrase "high-tech lynching of uppity blacks" in his defense. Byrd stated that he was "offended by the injection of racism" into the hearing. He called Thomas's comments a "diversionary tactic". Byrd commented upon the racism issue that Thomas raised by stating that "I [Byrd] thought we were past that stage." Byrd dismissed Thomas' racism charges by stating that Thomas exhibited "arrogance" and Thomas' comments were "nonsense, nonsense." Regarding Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges against Thomas, Byrd believed Hill. Byrd joined 45 other Democrats in their opposition to Thomas. Byrd also opposed some of George W. Bush's judicial and cabinet nominees who were black, notably Janice Rogers Brown for judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State. Despite his opposition to Brown's appointment, Byrd would later ally himself with the Gang of 14 that would ensure that Brown's nomination would not be filibustered.

In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) Congressional Report Card for the 108th Congress (spanning the 2003–2004 congressional session), Byrd was awarded with an approval rating of 100 percent for favoring the NAACP's position in all 33 bills presented to the United States Senate regarding issues of their concern. Only 16 other Senators of the same session matched this approval rating. In June 2005, Byrd proposed an additional $10 million in federal funding for the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., remarking that "With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently."

War in Iraq

In the 107th Congress, Byrd suffered some legislative setbacks, particularly with respect to debates on homeland security. Byrd opposed the 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Securitymarker, saying it ceded too much authority to the executive branch. He led a filibuster against the resolution granting President George W. Bush broad power to wage a "preemptive" war against Iraq, but he could not get a majority of his own party to vote against cloture and against the resolution. He also led the opposition to Bush's bid to win back the power to negotiate trade deals that Congress cannot amend, but lost overwhelmingly. In the 108th Congress, however, Byrd won his party's top seat on the new Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Byrd was one of the Senate's most outspoken critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He appeared on March 7, 2003 on CNN's Larry King Live to discuss his U.S. Senate floor speeches against the Iraq War Resolution in 2002.

In a speech on March 13 he stated:

On March 19, 2003, when Bush ordered the invasion after receiving U.S. Congress approval, Byrd stated:

Byrd also criticized Bush for his speech declaring the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, which Bush made on the U.S.S.marker Abraham Lincolnmarker. Byrd stated on the Senate floor:

On October 17, 2003, Byrd delivered a speech expressing his concerns about the future of the nation and his unequivocal antipathy to Bush's policies. Referencing the Hans Christian Andersen children's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, Byrd said of the president: "the emperor has no clothes." Byrd further lamented the "sheep-like" behavior of the "cowed Members of this Senate" and called on them to oppose the continuation of a "war based on falsehoods."

Byrd accused the Bush administration of stifling dissent:

In July 2004, Byrd released the book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency about the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq.

Of the more than 17,000 votes he has cast as a Senator, Byrd says he is proudest of his vote against the Iraq war resolution. Byrd has also voted for funding the Iraq war with a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Gang of 14

On May 23, 2005, Byrd was one of 14 Senators (who became known as the "Gang of 14") to forge a compromise on the use of the judicial filibuster, thus securing up and down votes for the judicial nominees and ending the threat of the so-called nuclear option. Under the agreement, the senators would retain the power to filibuster a judicial nominee in only an "extraordinary circumstance". It ensured that the appellate court nominees (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor) would receive a vote by the full Senate.

Electoral history

2006 re-election campaign

After several major Republican figures in the state decided not to run against Byrd, the Republican party convinced John Raese to run for this seat. Raese is the owner of radio stations and a newspaper in West Virginia. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1984 against then Governor Jay Rockefeller. In 1988, he ran against Governor Arch Moore for the Republican nomination and lost.

Raese won the May 2006 primary with 58 percent of the vote, defeating five other candidates. Byrd defeated him on November 7, 2006, securing a ninth consecutive term in the Senate.

Health issues

On February 26, 2008, Byrd was admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Centermarker for observation following a fall at his home the day before. Byrd attended Senate sessions on that day, but complained of pain and his aides asked him to see the Capitol physician before he went to the hospital. Byrd stayed in the hospital for four days; no broken bones were found. On March 5, he was readmitted because of his reactions to antibiotics and the need for tests to determine a different course of medication, a statement from his office said.Byrd was admitted to the hospital again on June 2, 2008. He recuperated at home and by June 18 had returned to chairing his committee.

On January 20, 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy suffered a seizure during Barack Obama's inaugural luncheon and was taken away in an ambulance. Byrd, seated at the same table, grew emotional over his colleague's continuing seizures and was himself removed to his office. Byrd's office reported that he was fine.

On May 18, 2009, it was reported that Byrd had been admitted to the hospital after experiencing a fever due to a "minor infection." His stay at the hospital was prolonged due to a staph infection. Byrd was released on June 30, 2009.


Byrd is not related to the Byrd Organization led by Harry F. Byrd and Harry F. Byrd, Jr., both former U.S. Senators from Virginiamarker.


Byrd's mother, Ada Mae Kirby
Erma Ora James was born on June 12, 1917 in Floyd County, Virginiamarker to Fred and Mary James, and was the daughter of a coal miner. She had one sister, Beulah Minton. At an early age, she relocated to Raleigh County, West Virginiamarker with her family. There she met Robert Byrd while attending Mark Twain School.

On May 29, 1937, she married Robert Byrd when both were 19 years old. The small ceremony was attended only by their parents at the home of Reverend U.G. Nichols.

Beginning in 1958, Erma was a member of the Senate Wives Club, and was involved in Senate Wives' Red Crossmarker projects. In 1990, she was selected as Daughter of the Year by the West Virginia Society of Washington, D.C. She was later awarded a degree from the University of Hard Knocks at Alderson-Broaddus Collegemarker in 1991, and in 1994, Marshall Universitymarker initiated the Erma Byrd Scholars Program. This was followed with the Loyalty Permanent Endowment Fund of the West Virginia Universitymarker Alumni Association, who established the Erma Ora Byrd Scholarship.

In October 1997, the Erma Byrd Garden at the Graceland Mansion at the Davis and Elkins Collegemarker was dedicated. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheeling Jesuit University soon after, which was followed up with the dedication of the Erma Ora Byrd Center for Educational Technologies on the campus.

In May 1999, she was named Mother of the Year by the Thunder of the Tygart Foundation at the birthplace of Anna Jarvis, the surmised founder of Mother's Day. She received the Graduate of Distinction Award from the Education Alliance in Charleston, West Virginiamarker in the same month. In January 2004, the Erma Byrd Gallery at the University of Charleston opened.

On March 25, 2006, Erma Byrd died after battling a lengthy illness. Robert Byrd has dedicated several buildings in honor of his wife. On June 12, 2007, he dedicated the Erma Ora Byrd Hall nursing building at Shepherd University. Also, on September 13, 2008, Byrd dedicated the West Virginia Universitymarker Erma Byrd Biomedical Research Center. The building houses the university's Sensory Neurosciences Research Center, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Cardiovascular Sciences, the School of Pharmacy, and the Multiple Sclerosis and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Center.


Byrd has two children, Mona Byrd Fatemi and Marjorie Byrd Moore; two sons-in-law, Mohammad Fatemi and Jon Moore; five living grandchildren, Erik Byrd Fatemi, Darius Fatemi, and Fredrik Fatemi, Mona Moore, and Mary Anne Moore, and one that is deceased, Michael Moore (not the film director); and six great-grandchildren, Caroline Byrd Fatemi, Kathryn James Fatemi, Anna Cristina Fatemi, Michael Yoo Fatemi, Emma James Clarkson, and Hannah Byrd Clarkson.

Byrd in popular culture

  • Byrd has a prominent role in the 2008 Warner Bros. documentary Body of War. The film chronicles the life of Tomas Young, paralyzed from the chest down after an Iraqi sniper shot him as he was riding in a vehicle in Iraq. Several long clips of Byrd show him passionately arguing against authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Later in the movie, Byrd has a one-on-one interview with Tomas Young in Byrd's Senate office, with a grand shot of Byrd walking beside the wheelchair-bound Young as they leave the Capitol.
  • In the Jeffrey Archer novel Shall We Tell the President? Byrd, a Senate Majority Leader, was mentioned as the Senator, possible involvement in assassination plot against President (in first book version Ted Kennedy and later Florentyna Kane), but he was a suspect just because he was in Washington D.C.marker at a certain time, not because he was a political enemy or had any interest in killing the President.
  • Byrd was an avid fiddle player for most of his life, starting in his teens when he played in various square dance bands. Once he entered politics, he used his fiddling skills to attract attention and win votes. In 1978 when Byrd was Majority Leader, he recorded an album called U.S. Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler (County, 1978). Byrd was accompanied by Country Gentlemen Doyle Lawson, James Bailey, and Spider Gilliam. Most of the LP consists of "old-timey" mountain music. Byrd covers "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die," a Zeke Manners song, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." He has performed at the Kennedy Centermarker, on the Grand Ole Oprymarker and on Hee Haw. He can no longer play the fiddle due to the symptoms of a benign essential tremor that affects his hands. Prior to that, he would occasionally take a break from Senate business to entertain audiences with his fiddle.
  • Byrd also appeared in the Civil War movie Gods and Generals in 2003 along with former Virginia Senator George Allen as Confederate officers.

Published writing

  • 2008. Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for our Next Leader. ISBN 0-312-38302-9.
  • 2005. Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields. ISBN 1-933202-00-9.
  • 2004. Losing America: Confronting A Reckless and Arrogant Presidency. ISBN 0-393-05942-1.
  • 2004. We Stand Passively Mute: Senator Robert C. Byrd's Iraq Speeches. ISBN 0-9755749-0-6.
  • 1995. Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism. ISBN 0-16-058996-7
  • 1995. The Senate, 1789–1989: Classic Speeches, 1830–1993, Vol. 3. ISBN 0-16-063257-9
  • 1993. The Senate, 1789–1989: Historical Statistics, 1789–1992, Vol. 4. ISBN 0-16-063256-0
  • 1991. The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol. 2: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate. ISBN 0-16-006405-8
  • 1989. The Senate, 1789–1989, Vol. 1: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate. ISBN 0-16-006391-4


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  16. National Journal
  17. ACLU
  20. "Sen. Robert Byrd Discusses His Past and Present", Inside Politics, CNN, December 20, 1993
  21. Civil Rights Act of 1964
  22. C-SPAN
  23. Williams, Juan. "Right Time, Right Man?". American Revolutionary.
  24. Johnson, Scott. Saying Goodbye to a Great One, Weekly Standard, June 1, 2005.
  25. Byrd, Robert. Robert Byrd Speaks Out Against the Appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court 10-14-1991, American Voices, October 14, 1991.
  26. The Supreme Court Watch - A Public Service of The Conservative Caucus
  27. NAACP
  28. Robert Byrd Senate Office
  29. "Senate approves Iraq war resolution", CNN, October 11, 2002.
  30. CNN
  31. J. Taylor Rushing, On June 2, the television network MSNBC reported that Byrd had once again been admitted to the hospital suffering from lethargy and a fever. "Byrd sent back to hospital", The Hill, March 5, 2008
  32. Sen. Byrd released from hospital
  33. Larry King Live, Time frame: 04:05, verified May 9, 2007
  34. 'Gods and Generals'—and Congress

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