While I support removal of Confederate Monuments around the country, and strongly support The Black Lives Matter movement, I don’t agree with Bethany College’s removal of Robert C. Byrd’s name from the Student Health Center.
I personally worked with Senator Byrd in his later years, as first Chairman of the Board of the then Wheeling National Heritage Corporation (now Wheeling Heritage), and would meet with him personally about once a month on the progress of design and development of the Wheeling Artisan Center, the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Center, and Wheeling’s Heritage Port. Without Senator Byrd’s encouragement and support in having Congress appropriate the funds for a newly designated Wheeling Heritage Area, none of those projects would have come to fruition. And while many saw him as the” King of Pork,” he himself would respond, “They call it PORK, I call it JOBS.”
More pointedly to his admittedly sordid past as a member in his youth in the KKK, and as a Dixiecrat Senator who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Byrd related to us on more than one occasion during our meetings with him that those experiences were what he regretted most about his background, and that it was his education that helped him understand the error of his ways. It should not be forgotten that Senator Byrd, while gravely ill, was wheeled into the Senate Chamber to cast an important vote in support of Obamacare.
Since his death, I have not heard one reputable source comment that Senator Byrd was in politics for his own “self-interest,” or for what was best for him, even though his name has been associated with many other projects around the state for which he worked equally hard to have Congress appropriate the necessary funds.
Senator Robert C. Byrd may have started out on the wrong side of history, but he took education seriously, educated himself, and freed himself from the dark thoughts of bias and prejudice that may have plagued his early years. We should continue to honor him in that sense — as an inspiration that people can change; and that to the extent that any citizens of West Virginia still harbor those dark thoughts of bias and prejudice, Senator Byrd should be an inspiration for them to change as well. Redemption, at any age, should be welcomed.
Patrick S. Cassidy