"Rather I should die a thousand times, and see old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels."
These are the words written by former Senator Robert C. Byrd in a letter, where he declared that he would never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by his side. This same man, with those racist thoughts, was eventually elected to Congress, and specifically the U.S. Senate, with the full responsibility and power to introduce bills and vote on legislation that would significantly impact Black people in this country for years.
One historical truth that is important for people to remember is that African Americans have always had to deal with the dark forces of racism, not only by hate groups, but by those with the power to disenfranchise, discriminate and even murder. One of those dark forces, that was created to intimidate and keep Black people in a state of fear and bondage, still has a presence in the U.S., and while many members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) aren’t as easily identifiable as they once were, they are still having an impact by being clothed with "invisible robes of injustice."
Why is this all important?
While many KKK members still wear the traditional robes and costumes, many of them do not. There are many elected officials, police, community leaders and business people who wear "invisible robes of injustice" every day; hiding their true identity and their true beliefs. Sadly, behind closed doors, and in the dark of night, many of them are plotting and planning to execute strategies that are intended to disenfranchise and harm Black people.
After the gruesome discovery of Jasper, Texas native Alfred Wright, having been found severely mutilated and tortured, along with the handling of the investigation by local law enforcement and state officials, one can see how Texas is listed as a state that has a high number of hate groups.
According to the quarterly investigative journal, Intelligence Report, recently released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, senior fellow Mark Potok says that Texas remained an extremist hot spot in 2013, with 57 hate groups listed on an interactive map, the third highest number in the country. The sad reality for residents of Texas and many other states, is that there are individuals who hold key positions of authority and influence, that have many of the same views and beliefs about Black people as these hate groups, like the KKK openly profess.
If you know anything about the late Sen. Byrd, you need not have to look him up too much on the Internet to know that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and will forever be known as one of the staunchest and most dedicated racists of his time. In his book, "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields," Byrd wrote that he was a key leader in the Klan and recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and did so up until early 1943. Byrd was encouraged by a leader of the Klan to go into politics, which he did and went on to become one of the most influential and powerful lawmakers in U.S. history. While running for the Democratic nomination, Byrd stated that he quit his membership in the Ku Klux Klan about a year after becoming a member; however, after winning the 1952 primary, his Republican general election opponent revealed a letter that Byrd had handwritten to Samuel Green, the "Imperial
Wizard" of the Ku Klux Klan, encouraging the promotion of the Klan throughout the country, according to news reports during that time. Byrd’s Klan past became an issue again when he joined with other southern Democrats to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With all the passion he could muster, Byrd managed to filibuster the bill for more than 14 hours. He also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One of his most monumental acts of racial prejudice, however, came in 1967, when he voted against the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person appointed to the Supreme Court.
Sadly the Klan, and individuals in positions of authority who supported the Klan, like Byrd, became an organized group of domestic terrorists who went out of their way to disenfranchise Blacks by lynching and murdering them, as well as any Whites who were either active in Republican politics or were educating Black children.
African-American journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells spoke out against the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and documented how their use of lynching in the U.S. showed how they would often use it as a tool to control or punish Black people who competed with Whites. Wells said, "Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense."
Many Klan members operated in small towns and rural areas where people otherwise knew each other’s faces, and sometimes still recognized the attackers. Most of these men were businessmen, law enforcement officials, members of the clergy and elected officials, who would dress in robes and sheets in order to avoid being identified by anyone. Fast forward to today and we see the same thing happening, except most of these same individuals in positions of authority are not wearing robes and sheets anymore; they are simply wearing their normal suits and uniforms.
The movie, "The Invisible Man," which was derived from H.G. Wells’ book of the same name, was brought to the big screen in 1933. In this psychological thriller, a young scientist pushes the envelope continuously, through the creation of his own experiments. Using himself as the subject, the scientist discovers the key to being invisible, but finds that he is unable to reverse the results. H.G. Wells created a masterpiece and was able to lead people into the mind of the scientist, better understanding the destructive effects that invisibility has on the scientist and the insane and murderous chaos that he left behind.
There has been nothing invisible about the way Black people in this country have been treated in this country, except for the people who have administered the injustice towards them. Such was the case with Byrd and many other people who have had positions of authority and have used them to disenfranchise and harm Blacks; never sharing their racist beliefs and views, but making decisions and displaying attributes that are aligned to their racist thoughts. They remain publicly invisible, while their actions are visibly blatant and out-in-the-open.
When you look at today’s Congress, elected officials, the prison system, judicial system, the educational system, law enforcement policies and other issues affecting Blacks, there are many glaring examples of how Blacks have been disenfranchised based on the actions and decisions of people with the authority or with the capacity to do so. Many of those actions and decisions are reminiscent to the way the Klan operated and executed their level of terror on Black people in this country without wanting to be identified; they have become unofficial members without the robes and sheets.
Before his "change of heart" later in life, Byrd served as an example of how racist individuals with key positions of power have used their influence to disenfranchise and hurt Blacks in this country for centuries. It starts with the view that White people and other races have about Black people in this country.
According to a 2012 report from The Associated Press, which commissioned the poll that was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 51 percent of Americans expressed explicit anti-Black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-Black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the 2008 presidential election.
Another key point, according to the study, was that implicit anti-Black attitudes among Whites went from 49 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2012, a shift of 10 percentage points. And explicit anti-Black attitudes among Whites went from 57 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012. In other words, the attitudes of White people towards Black people shifted far more than the entire country as a whole and that is troubling.
Racism is a disease that people are born with and therefore should not be allowed to spread to our next generation of leaders who will have the same level of power and influence as the late Sen. Robert Byrd once had; we must all intervene so that wearing an "invisible robe of injustice" never crosses their minds.