Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields

By Neal, Arthur G. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), September 2007 | Go to article overview

Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields


Neal, Arthur G., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields Robert C. Byrd. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2005.

Senator Robert C. Byrd has been an important part of his times. His service in Congress has extended from 1946 to today. This span of American history has included the Civil Rights Movement, the war on poverty, the Vietnam War, McCarthyism, the political corruption of the Nixon Administration, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the War in Iraq. Through being a part of his times, Byrd had both the opportunity and the obligation to take a stand on political issues that shaped the past fifty years of American life. His service has been noteworthy in representing the interests of his constituents in dealing with complex social and political issues.

Unlike many of his generation, Byrd stayed in West Virginia and made a dedication to improving the quality of life in the state. Many of his generation that received their formative education in West Virginia left Appalachia to pursue greater economic opportunities elsewhere. Many of those who left the state, including the present reviewer, have had an enduring sense of guilt for not using their talents to make some contribution to the place of origin. The mechanization of the coal mines and the ensuing high levels of unemployment occurred during a time in which most of the nation was experiencing an unprecedented level of economic prosperity and opportunity.

Byrd's formal education was sporadic and frequently interrupted by other responsibilities. He had not finished his undergraduate, baccalaureate degree by the time he was elected to the US Senate. He completed his formal education while serving in Congress. Along with his responsibilities in the Senate, he enrolled in law school at American University and completed the requirements for a law degree over the next ten years. His life history is an excellent example of what was described by Max Weber as "the Protestant Ethic." His Baptist background was combined with a moralistic dimension that shaped commitments to politics as a vocation and to a sense of indignation over the corruption that he frequently saw in the political process.

Byrd may very well be the only man who has served in both houses of a state legislature as well as in both house of the US Congress. …

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