In his later years, Byrd said the two votes he wished he could take back were his vote against the Civil Rights Act and his vote that same year for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which helped escalate the Vietnam War.
Corbin argues Byrd "opposed the 1964 [civil rights] bill on constitutional grounds, not racism. He raised constitutional questions, but was not opposed to the intent of the legislation." According to Corbin, Byrd voted for previous civil rights bills in 1957 and 1960.
Byrd opposed congressional efforts to abolish literacy tests, Corbin said, believing the "Constitution gave states the right to set their own qualifications [for voting]."
In 1960, Congress considered legislation to abolish the poll tax, often used to prevent black people from voting. "He was not opposed to the intent of the legislation," Corbin argues, "but said it would have to be done by constitutional amendments, not statutes. Two years later, Congress did it under a constitutional amendment and Byrd voted for it."
Many historians argue the "states' rights" philosophy was a centerpiece in maintaining segregation throughout the South. Byrd was allied on "states rights" with other senators, including Democrats John C. Stennis of Mississippi, George Smathers of Florida and J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.
Corbin worked for the Senate for 26 years, the last 16 for Byrd. He previously served on the staffs of Democratic Senate Majority Leaders George Mitchell of Maine and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
He hopes his new book "will establish Byrd as a figure on the national stage. He is being left out of the history books. That is what concerns me.
"The major purpose of the book is to place Byrd in a national perspective."
Corbin said he also wrote about Byrd's role in investigating the Watergate scandal, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and his role opposing many policies under President Ronald Reagan.
"I am tying to put him back in history books in a very positive way," Corbin said. "But there is no easy read on the guy. He had his own philosophy. You see it time after time."Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.