Thursday, June 23, 2005


In the early 1940's, when Byrd was approximately 24 years old, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, which he had seen holding parades in Matoaka, West Virginia as a child, his father having been among the hooded marchers. As a Kleagle of the organization he "recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the Grand Dragon Joel L. Baskin for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter..."When it came time to choose the Exalted Cyclops, the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously

Byrd, in his autobiography, attributed the beginnings of his political career to this incident, though he lamented that they involved the Klan. According to Byrd's recollection, Baskin told him "You have a talent for leadership, Bob...The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd recalls that (Suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities. I was only 23 or 24, and the thought of a political career had never struck me. But strike me that night, it did.)

It was a common Klan practice to use frightening sounding titles for its officials based upon the group's belief that African Americans were especially superstitious and would be intimidated by the names alone, as well as by the garb, symbols and violence of the organization.

He participated in the KKK for a period of time during World War II, holding the titles (Kleagle), which indicated a Klan recruiter, and "Exalted Cyclops." Byrd, did not serve in the military during the war, working instead as a welder in a Baltimore shipyard, assembling warships.

Though Byrd did not serve himself, he commented on the 1945 controversy raging over the idea of racially integrating the military. In his book When Jim Crow Met John Bull, Graham Smith referred to a letter written that year by Byrd, when he 28 years old, to racist Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, in which Byrd vowed never to fight, (with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.)