West Virginia History Week – Robert Byrd | Life

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Senator Robert Carlyle Byrd (November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) once held the record for longest-serving U.S. Congressman. Byrd was born in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. His name was originally Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. His mother died in 1918, and he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, Vlurma and Titus Dalton Byrd, in West Virginia. They raised him as their own child.

Titus Byrd was a coal miner and the family lived in several company towns, in houses without running water or electricity. Robert Byrd’s education began in a two-room schoolhouse. He was valedictorian of the class of 1934 at Mark Twain High School in Stotesbury, Raleigh County. He married his high school sweetheart, Erma Ora James, in 1937. Erma Ora James Byrd, born June 17, 1917, died March 25, 2006, after a long illness. Byrd worked at a gas station and a grocery store. He learned the trade as a meat cutter, and by the late 1930s he was working as a butcher for $85 a week. He worked in the Baltimore and Tampa shipyards during World War II, then returned to West Virginia and opened a grocery store in Sophia, Raleigh County, and taught an adult Bible course. In 1946, he began a political career that would last more than half a century when he was elected to the House of Delegates. Around this time, he briefly joined the Ku Klux Klan, an act he would later regret.

Byrd was reelected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1948 and was elected to the state Senate in 1950. He won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1952 and was reelected in 1954 and 1956. In 1958 he presented to the United States. Senate, although it was initially opposed by both the coal companies and John L. Lewis, the president of the United Mine Workers. He won the Democratic primary and general election by strong margins, and was re-elected by wide margins in every election until his death. He was the first senator to carry all of the state’s 55 counties in a contested general election.

On January 3, 1959, the coal miner’s son was sworn in in the Senate Chamber in the presence of three future presidents, Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Richard Nixon. With the help of then-Majority Leader Johnson, Byrd won a seat on the Appropriations Committee in an effort to secure funding for projects in West Virginia. In return, he supported Johnson’s nominee Hubert Humphrey in his unsuccessful campaign in the 1960 presidential primary in West Virginia. In the 1950s and 1960s, he had a Conservative voting record. While serving in Congress, Byrd, who never graduated from college, attended American University Law School for ten years. When he graduated from law school in June 1963, President Kennedy, at his request, gave the commencement address. Byrd received a BA from Marshall University in Huntington in 1994, which he had briefly attended several years before. Byrd was careful to master the rules of the Senate. He was elected secretary of the Democratic Caucus in 1967 and used the office to meet the day-to-day needs of his colleagues. His diligent hard work enabled him to campaign unexpectedly for the post of Majority Whip, held by Edward Kennedy, and in January 1971, with Senator Richard Russell’s deathbed proxy, he was elected to that position. post by the Democratic Caucus. Byrd’s mastery of the rules and his attention to the needs of fellow senators helped him defeat Humphrey in the race to succeed Senator Mike Mansfield as Majority Leader after Mansfield declined to run in the 1976 election.

At that time, Byrd’s voting record was less conservative and closer to that of most Senate Democrats, but as Majority Leader from 1977 to 1981 and as Minority Leader from 1981 to 1987 , he did not seek to establish party policy. The powers of any leader are limited in a body like the Senate where the conduct of business often requires unanimous consent. In 1987, when he again became Majority Leader, he established legislative priorities and then announced that he would leave the post after the 1988 elections.

In January 1989, Robert Byrd got the job he had been aiming for all along, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I want to be West Virginia’s billion-dollar industry,” he said in 1990, and in subsequent years as president and, from January 1995 to May 2001, a minority member of the committee, he brought much more than that to the state. . Notable projects include the FBI Fingerprint Identification Center in Clarksburg, IRS offices in Parkersburg, Fish and Wildlife Training Center in Shepherdstown, an office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and firearms in Martinsburg, a NASA research center in Wheeling, the National White Collar Crime Center in Fairmont and Morgantown, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown. This miner’s son also looks after coalfield interests: Byrd secures funds for miners displaced by the 1990 Clean Air Act; he co-sponsored the unanimously adopted 1997 resolution opposing the Kyoto Protocol as long as it exempted developing countries; and he sought to legislatively overturn an October 1999 court ruling against surface mining.

But Byrd did not focus entirely on local issues. During his years in the Senate, he systematically read the great books of the classical and modern eras and often referred to them in speeches. With the help of Senate historian Richard Baker, he wrote a two-volume history, The Senate 1789-1989, which he first delivered as a speech in the Senate. He reacted forcefully when he felt that the prerogatives of the Senate, the Appropriations Committees or Congress in general were flouted. He was one of five members of Congress to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the line item veto enacted in 1996; in June 1998, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 2002, he took a determined, if unsuccessful, stand against the Bush administration’s call for a resolution authorizing war on Iraq, arguing that the authority sought was unconstitutionally broad.

In 2004, Byrd lobbied for passage of an amendment establishing Constitution Day as a federal observance. All federally funded schools are required to provide educational programs on the history of the United States Constitution on September 17, the day the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in 1787.

Byrd was elected to his eighth term in the Senate in 2000 by a 78% margin, his largest ever; he carried the 55 counties for the third time. In 2006, he was elected to his ninth term in the Senate. He served as President pro tempore of the Senate, fourth in line to succeed the President, from January 1989 to January 1995 and again from May 2001 to January 2003.

In May 2001, Byrd was named by Governor Wise and the Legislature as the West Virginia of the 20th Century. Senator Byrd released his long-awaited autobiography in 2005. He became the longest-serving U.S. senator in history on June 12, 2006, and the longest-serving member of Congress overall on November 18, 2009. This record was broken on June 7, 2013, by Congressman John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan.

Byrd died at the age of 92. He was honored in West Virginia at a ceremony attended by President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and other dignitaries. Byrd was buried next to his wife, Erma, in a cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia. His congressional papers are in the archives of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.

To learn more about the history of West Virginia, as Margaret Agnew Blennerhassett lived from 1800 to 1806 in a large 16-room mansion she and her husband had built on an island in the Ohio River near the present-day Parkersburg, visit register-herald.com

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