CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It was a sight that would have seemed unimaginable when Senator Robert Byrd was growing up in West Virginia.
On Friday at a memorial service for the longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress, the first black American president paid tribute to a man who in his youth had belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.
It was just a moment in time, but reflected the sweep of social and political change in U.S. history during the 92 years of Byrd’s life.
Former President Bill Clinton addressed Byrd’s fleeting association with the white supremacist KKK in the early 1940s before he was elected to Congress.
“I’ll tell you what it means, he was a country boy from the hills and hollows of West Virginia, he was trying to get elected,” Clinton said. “And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up, and that’s what a good person does.”