West Virginia's Byrd, Kennedy Foe, Once was Kleagle in Ku Klux Klan

By David Wise
Herald Tribune Service

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), a key figure of the "stop Kennedy" forces in his State's critical May 10 presidential primary, is a former Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan who once urged the rebirth of the hate group "in every state in the Union."

The West Virginia Senator is active in a drive to halt front-running Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is battling Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.), i the Moutnain State primary in a contest that may well decide the fate of the Democratic presidential nomination.

In recent weeks, it has been reported that Byrd was once "briefly a member" of the Klan. The fact is that he was a Kleagle, or organizer, for the Klan during World War II and wrote as late as 1946 to Dr. Samuel Green of Atlanta, Imperial Grand Wizard of the Klan, recommending a friend as a Kleagle and urging promotion of the Klan throughout the nation.

"Anxious for Rebirth"

"The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia," Byrd wrote the Imperial Wizard.

The Ku Klux Klan developed primarily as a terrorist group aimed at the Southern Negro in Reconstruction times, but it is also virulently anti-Catholic. The Klan reached its heyday in the 1920s but has since declined. Its symbols, then and now, are the white sheet, white hood and burning cross.

Sen. Byrd's Klan record was brought out when he ran for Congress for the first time in 1952 and again when he ran for the Senate in 1958. However, that record is not widely known or remembered outside West Virginia.

When first interviewed about the Klan in October, 1958, Rep. Byrd, who had served three terms in Congress, was campaigning for the Senate seat he now holds.

Employment Record Cited

The Congressman pointed out that the Klan issue had failed to defeat him when it was raised in 1952 and said he has employed Catholics, Negroes and Jews in his Washington office.

Asked why he joined the Klan, Byrd said alternately that "I'm a joiner" and "The Klan was fighting communism." But he added that he personally felt the Klan had been incorrectly blamed for many acts committed by others.

At no point in the interview did Byrd express regret over his having served as a Klan official.

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