Byrd, Robert C.

Byrd, Robert C. (Carlyle)

(1917–  ) U.S. senator; born in North Wilkesboro, N.C. From humble beginnings as a meatcutter and welder, he rose rapidly in politics. Elected to the West Virginia state legislature (1947–52), he moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., W. Va., 1953–58) and to the U.S. Senate (1958). Briefly a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his younger days, and a conservative opponent of civil rights and welfare spending in his early career in Washington, he grew more liberal by the 1970s, when he played a role in the Watergate investigation and criticized the continuing war in Vietnam. A master of Senate procedures, he served as majority whip (1971–76), majority leader (1976–80), minority leader (1981–84), a second term as majority leader (1987–88), and then voluntarily went back to being just a senator.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.