No dishonor in Byrd’s name; he changed his legacy

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — William Faulkner once noted that in in South, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.”

No, we’ll never qualify as part of the South. After all, our state was forged out of the flames of the Civil War to become a part of the North.

Yet, many West Virginians don’t accept that event as the defining moment of who and what we are, either.

But whether our state should ever sanction the Confederate flag on public buildings is not debatable.

That flag symbolizes many things to many people, but it’s inescapable that among those things are high treason and human slavery.

If individuals still wish to fly this flag, or even tattoo it on their forehead, that’s fine.

Still, that flag does not belong on any government — state or otherwise —buildings or on their grounds.

Recently, we reported on a radio host who launched a petition drive to erase West Virginia’s most esteemed lawmaker ’s name from public buildings, too.

Whether this effort to remove Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s name from public buildings was tongue in cheek, or not, is open to question.

By some indications it was just that — hyper-political teasing. But judging by comments posted on that online protest, it was anything but in good humor.

Was Byrd a member of the Ku Klux Klan? Yes. He certainly was a racist in 1943.

However, 1940s and 1950s America embodied a society where bigotry and racism was not only commonplace, but was virtually the law of the land.

But Byrd spoke for himself then. What we object to is when he spoke for our state and voted against civil rights legislation. Can we forgive him for that mistake? Absolutely.

Forget it? No. Yet, our state was certainly no bastion of progressives, then or now judging by the members of our congressional delegation today.

Byrd learned from his mistakes, apologized at every opportunity and he changed — in deeds and words. He served our state and nation well in far more respects than the shame he caused it during the civil rights era.

True, he was the prince of pork, but he was our prince.

Because of him, many federal dollars that would have gone elsewhere came here.

His dedication to celebrating the Constitution, marking its adoption and teaching its importance is legendary.

Was he perfect? Far from it. But his mistakes no more dishonor us today than those of others of his generation.

Admitting past mistakes, apologizing for them and moving forward is all anyone can do to get right with the present.

As legacies go, the Confederate flag never changed and still symbolizes a terrible past.

Sen. Byrd changed and for that and much more we can honor him far into the future.

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