As the Stapleton neighborhood abandons its name — and as statues come down across the country — Sens. Cory Gardner, Michael Bennet, and the rest of Colorado’s delegation should stop the federal government from idolizing a racist.
Demand removal of dozens of memorials to former Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., starting with his portrait in the U.S. Capitol.
Because black lives matter, activists and politicians are cleansing the landscape of symbols with any nexus to racism. They topple and burn statues of Confederate officers who died more than a century ago. They destroy statues of founders and former presidents who lived in an era predating the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act, and most other efforts to pursue the vision of freedom and justice for all.
TV executives have canceled “Cops,” “Live PD,” “Dukes of Hazzard” reruns, and other shows deemed racially inappropriate in the wake of Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, a black man suspected of a $20 crime.
The Stapleton neighborhood, built on the site of the old Stapleton Airport, is changing its name because former Democratic Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton joined the Klan briefly in the 1920s. At the time, the Klan was a veritable appendage of the Democratic Party, and membership was a means of getting elected.
Early on as mayor, Stapleton announced his independence from the Klan and ordered a raid that exposed and expelled a dozen Klan members serving in the police department.
Two years after he took office, the Klan voted to eject Stapleton from an organization he had renounced. None of that inspires forgiveness 95 years later because we have matured to reject any trace of our country’s racist past.
Twenty years after Stapleton turned against the Klan, Byrd decided his West Virginia town of Sophia needed a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He recruited 150 members who unanimously voted him the “exalted cyclops,” the highest-ranking member of the chapter.
“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,” Byrd wrote in a 1944 letter to segregationist Sen. Theodore Bilbo, D-Miss.
Elected to the U.S. Senate 15 years later, as the Klan chapter he founded continued fomenting hatred, Byrd led an 83-day filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He stood for a record-breaking 14 consecutive hours during one of his personal tirades against civil rights.
Byrd repeated the N-word during a 2001 interview, saying “I’m going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it (race) so much.”
Byrd expressed regret for his Klan leadership in a 1997 interview by warning aspiring politicians to avoid the organization so they “don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”
Apparently not. Democrats elected Byrd as Senate majority leader, Senate minority leader, Senate president pro tempore and Senate president pro tempore emeritus. He served until his death in 2010, at which point then-Vice President Joe Biden said “he was a friend. He was a mentor and a guide.”
Mentored and guided by an old Klan leader. Maybe that’s why Biden called former President Barack Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” The first. Maybe that explains why Biden last year said “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
Unlike historic figures triggering outrage from centuries gone by, Byrd lived and ruled and spewed racism this century. Not only is this forgiven by the left, but the U.S. Capitol exalts the exalted cyclops with a 4-foot-high oil painting of Byrd with one hand on the Constitution and the other clutching a Bible.
Society honors this contemporary Klan leader like few other figures in history. Structures named after Byrd include two federal courthouses; a federal prison; 10 university buildings and institutions; a public high school; multiple federal highways and interchanges; a bridge; locks; a dam on the Ohio River; community buildings; a medical clinic; an industrial park; and more.
Democratic politicians have named at least 55 buildings, roads, and institutions after the man who founded a Klan chapter, led the fight against civil rights, and mentored Biden.
It is long past time to get Robert Byrd’s name off our federal assets. And take down that portrait.
The Gazette Editorial Board