For decades, many segregationists used "states rights" to justify their views.
Byrd's respect for the Constitution, Corbin writes, "led him to oppose abolishing the poll tax by statute [in 1962] and to oppose certain provisions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act."
Corbin's assertions contradict many events and statements from Byrd.
In the early 1940s, before running for his first office, Byrd became a Ku Klux Klan leader in Crab Orchard, outside Beckley.
In 1967, the "New York Times" reported, "Byrd is disliked by many liberals because of his opposition to civil rights."
In 1968, Byrd denounced Martin Luther King, shortly before his death, as "a self-seeking rabble rouser."
In 1971, when President Richard Nixon floated Byrd's name as a possible Supreme Court nominee, Corbin writes, southern segregationists in the Senate supported Byrd.
But Byrd's views on race evolved gradually over the years.
By 1974, nationally prominent African-American Rep. Barbara Jordan, D-Texas, introduced and praised Byrd at a Democratic Party mid-term convention in Kansas City.
"Orphan, senator, lawyer, legislator, leader. What is the measure of one man?" Jordan asked. "Some measure a man by the content of his commitment to a government of laws and others by his sense of justice."
Later in his career, Byrd repeatedly apologized for his earlier views.
Byrd, as Corbin points out, was also one of the first U.S. senators to hire black people on his own staff. He urged the city of Washington, D.C. to hire more African-Americans on its police force.
In "Child of the Appalachian Coalfields," his 2005 autobiography, Byrd wrote, "The Klan albatross is a mistake which has haunted me throughout my political career."
Later in his career, Byrd received 100 percent positive ratings from civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
A Senate leader
Corbin's new book revolves around his experiences working for Byrd for 16 years, the last 10 as a speechwriter. Over 26, years, Corbin also worked for Sens. George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Corbin's book rarely mentions events and politics in West Virginia. The book rarely, if ever, cites interviews with people, especially West Virginians, about their relations with Byrd. Corbin recently said he hopes, someday, to write a "full biography" of Byrd.
The book portrays Byrd's successful effort to defeat the "line-item veto," backed by Bill Clinton, to give presidents the power to unilaterally remove any lines from any legislation sent to their desks. The U.S. Supreme Court struck that legislation down in June 1998.
"The Last Great Senator" also details many benefits Byrd directed to the Mountain State, particularly after he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He served in that position three times, when Democrats controlled the Senate, between 1989 and 2009.
Byrd held more Senate leadership positions, and cast more votes, than anyone in Congressional history.
Byrd was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946 and 1948, the state Senate in 1950 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952. In 1958, he won the Senate seat he held until he died on June 28, 2010.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.