The passing of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) this morning has raised some interesting conversations about race and politics. Byrd is remembered for his views on race, which were, at best, conflicted. Some say his views on race changed and evolved as he matured – while he was once a member of the insidious Ku Klux Klan and voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he more recently voted for President Obama.
In his 2005 autobiography, Byrd apologized for his participation with the KKK, noting he: “was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision—a jejune and immature outlook—seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions.”
While he may have used his book and other public speaking opportunities to atone for his sins, there is one place where he demonstrated he may have had a change of heart when it came to race: educational freedom. In the months before his death, Byrd joined Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in co-sponsoring an amendment to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for another five years.
The program, which has had a positive effect on student performance and increased graduation rates, is being ended thanks to Democrats in Congress like Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and President Obama who claim it takes money away from public schools. (Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Read what Vicki has written here.)
In my opinion, actions speak louder than words. And Byrd’s effort to help poor, mostly black children, have more choice in education suggests he respects freedom in a way many of his fellow Democrats clearly do not.