Bethany College, a private college in West Virginia, recently removed former United States Senator Robert C. Byrd’s name for its health center. His name was removed because it “caused divisiveness and pain.”
To be clear, Senator Byrd was at one time a racist. He was such a racist that he was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan in the state of West Virginia before taking office. Byrd later called joining the KKK “the greatest mistake I ever made.”
In 1997, he said in an interview that he encouraged young people to become involved in politics but also warned, “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”
This quote led many to wonder whether he truly regretted being a part of the Klan or if it simply was impossible if he wanted to be a public official.
Bethany College President Tamara Rodenberg released a statement on the school’s website that Byrd’s name will be removed from the college’s Robert C. Byrd Health Center “to demonstrate Bethany College’s capacity to change, to listen, and to learn. Our lives are marked by decisions, by actions, and by grace, and today we embrace all three in a tangible, visible way at our beloved Bethany College.”
Robert Byrd was undeniably a big part of West Virginia history; the longest serving member in the history of the United States Congress. His viewpoints changed later in his career and he became a leading backer of civil rights and also a pro-choice supporter.
Rodenberg’s decision to remove his name from the Bethany College Health Center seemed at first a very progressive decision. However, her contention that Bethany College wants to demonstrate its “capacity to change, to listen, and to learn”is precisely what Robert Byrd did as a politician and a man.
Byrd listened, he learned and he changed. Towards the end of his life, Byrd said, “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”
Although Robert Byrd made poor decisions in his youth, he also did an awful lot for the state of West Virginia and was an amazing example of people’s ability to change. Byrd’s name should remain on buildings and his statue should continue to stand as a sign of West Virginia’s ability to change and grow from its mistakes.