- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Joining the Ku Klux Klan was “an extraordinarily foolish mistake” that has haunted Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s life for 40 years but the very thing that launched one of the longest careers in the Senate.

“It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me, and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career and reputation,” the West Virginia Democrat says in an autobiography being released today. “I displayed very bad judgment, due to immaturity and a lack of seasoned reasoning.”

“Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields” chronicles his 87 years, from boyhood to his re-election in 2000. At 770 pages, the book from West Virginia University Press sells for $35.

As a boy, he writes, he watched a Klan parade in Matoaka, W.Va., learning later his father had been among them. Back then, “many of the ‘best’ people were members,” he says.

He recruited 150 members, and when Grand Dragon Joel L. Baskin came to a meeting in Crab Orchard, W.Va., Mr. Byrd was unanimously elected Exalted Cyclops.

“You have a talent for leadership, Bob,” Mr. Baskin told him. “The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation.”

Mr. Byrd writes: “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.”

He said he belonged to the Klan for a year, then moved in 1943 to Baltimore to help build ships.


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