- NAME: Robert C. Byrd
- OCCUPATION: U.S. Representative
- BIRTH DATE: November 20, 1917
- DEATH DATE: June 28, 2010
- EDUCATION: Marshall University, American University, Washington College of Law
- PLACE OF BIRTH: North Wilkesboro, North Carolina
- PLACE OF DEATH: Falls Church, Virginia
- Originally: Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr
Best Known For
Robert C. Byrd is best known as the longest-serving senator and longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress.
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But he still didn't have a college degree. After winning his seat in the House of Representatives for a second time in 1952, the politician managed to enroll in night courses for law school, despite lacking a bachelor's degree. He was still attending school in 1958, when he defeated the Republican incumbent, W. Chapman Rivercomb, for a spot in the U.S. Senate.
In 1963, after 10 years of classes, Byrd graduated cum laude with his Juris Doctor from American University. President Kennedy,
the school's commencement speaker, handed Byrd his diploma. After receiving his degree, Byrd started the Scholastic Recognition Award in 1969, which awards the valedictorian at each West Virginia public and private high school with a savings bond. His financial generosity didn't stop there; appointed a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1960, Byrd became known for using his coveted position as a way to garner additional funds for poverty-stricken West Virginia. He delivered millions in federal aid to his state to build roads, schools and hospitals. The move made him very popular with his constituency, earning him the title "West Virginian of the 20th Century." Critics decried his favoritism with the title "King of Pork," in reference to what they saw as pork barrel spending.
Byrd's early votes in Congress reflected his roots in Southern anti-black, anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic teachings. Byrd initially denounced civil rights leader Martin Luther King as a "self-seeking rabble rouser," and he worked in opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a landmark law that removed many barriers for black Americans. He also voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protected the voting rights of American minorities, making a 15-hour filibuster speech in an attempt to keep the legislation from passing. He later apologized for both these votes.
After beating out incumbent senator Ted Kennedy for the position of Senate majority whip in 1971, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, Byrd's name was mentioned as a possible Supreme Court candidate. His lack of law experience and his ties to the KKK, however, prevented his nomination. This didn't prevent him from winning re-election as the majority whip, then earning the title of Senate majority leader in 1977. Byrd also stayed busy as a musician, recording his own album of fiddle music, Mountain Fiddler, in 1978. This same year, he appeared on the television program Hee Haw to play fiddle. He gave up playing in the 1980s because of a tremor in his hands.
Byrd would go on to become Senate minority leader in 1981, after the Republicans took control in the 1980 elections. He returned to the role of majority leader in 1986, until he stepped down from the post in 1988. He was then given the influential post of Appropriations Committee chairman.
In 1994, Byrd, who had by then written several award-winning volumes on Senate history, earned an honorary bachelor's degree from Marshall University.
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