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Bethany College made a mistake dropping Robert C. Byrd’s name from a campus institution. Perhaps college officials have forgotten the school’s roots in the Christian restoration movement.

They have decided that racism is too big a sin to forgive. Christ would have admonished them and asked them to forgive Byrd.

When I was a reporter for the Logan Banner, I was around Robert C. Byrd many times. I once asked Sen. Byrd about his Ku Klux Klan membership during the dedication of R.D. Bailey Lake.

He had a pained look on his face.

“It’s the biggest regret of my life, ” he said. “I’ve apologized for it a thousand times, and I’ll apologize for it a thousand more if needed.”

I didn’t write about it. Years later as a reporter for United Press International I needed help with a story and made a call to his office. He asked if I had worked at the Banner. I said I had. Byrd said he imagined my old boss could be an ass.

I laughed.

“I thought so, ” he said and laughed at the shared joke.

Not long after that UPI went bankrupt while I was covering the first part of first Gulf War. I had to look for a job. I turned down a job with the Charleston Gazette and ended up at the Daytona Beach News-Journal. I never had the chance to talk to Byrd again.

I get it that America is still grappling with its racist past. It is tearing nearby Louisville to pieces. Why can’t citizens make it a teachable moment? Erect signs to teach about the past. It will take more than that as divided as the U.S. has become.

It seems each side needs revenge for acts of the past. Instead we need healing. My own congressman, Thomas Massie, uses phrases like “us versus them” in political ads.

America can’t be healed with attitudes like that.

The current turmoil over racism is a symptom of the issues politicians use to divide us. Politicians are experts at creating issues and then campaigning against the issues they use to divide us. Both Democrats and Republicans share the blame.

Perhaps if people like Robert C. Byrd and Edward M. Kennedy, the great compromiser of the Senate, were still in that house maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. Kennedy and Byrd were not the only people to reach across the aisle. Republicans did it as well.

Congress makes me think of Henry Clay, the great compromiser. Clay said compromise is the currency of politics. I’m told that Clay also said that politics ends after the election and then the statesmanship begins.

I’m seeing no statesmanship in Congress and even less in other institutions.

The rift in America is on parade for the rest of the world. The rest of the world is watching.

Emery Jeffreys is a retired journalist. He lives in Simpsonville, Kentucky.

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