The recent news that a college in northern West Virginia has removed the name of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd from their health building is stunning!
Since we all tend to be products of our environments, we live out the character of those to whom we are exposed. In that respect, Sen. Byrd was no different from most. Growing up in a racist community, surrounded by racist citizens, saturated with racially charged conversation, indoctrinated with venomous white supremacist fervor … it’s not surprising that he joined up.
Furthermore, I fully understand the opposition to having government military bases named for men who made it their life mission to overthrow the United States government. Why should we honor them with naming, unless we honor their cause?
But this is different. This is not someone who embraced the financial and “moral” support of the white supremacists, while pretending not to know who the grand wizard of the KKK was, nor what the terrorist group stood for. This is not someone who defined himself with words rather than deeds.
This is a man who had to courage and conviction to recognize that he was on the wrong path and made obvious efforts to change his direction.
Even a cursory look at his latter-day record of voting on issues of civil rights reflects the evolution of his thinking. In fact, he was one of the first — and probably the most prominent — among politicians to endorse Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy for president of the United States. Now it wouldn’t surprise me that he was vilified by West Virginians for that.
Bethany College has gone too far. They have missed the point of the protest and thrown the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. I don’t think that money should be the ultimate qualifier of support, but the truth is that the building was likely funded because of Robert C. Byrd.
The article announcing the removal of the Byrd name clearly stated that “Byrd was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. He later renounced the group and apologized for his involvement.” What more would you have had him do?
It’s a fact that you can’t unscramble the egg, but you can certainly make a determination how you season it.
I don’t presume to speak for other African-Americans, but if the Honorable Sen. Robert C. Byrd could see the error of his ways and remedy his wrong, so can Bethany College. Place the man’s name back on the building and focus on doing something that makes real social change.