Former Sen. Harry Byrd Jr. honored by Virginia general assembly while black members walk out
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday presented a resolution honoring the life of the late U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. to members of his family, but most of the state's black lawmakers declined to participate.
Byrd's two sons, his daughter-in-law and five of his nine grandchildren received the resolution Tuesday on the Senate and House of Delegates floors. Byrd died July 30 at age 98.
All but a couple of the legislature's black members quietly left the floor during the presentations honoring Byrd, a defender of Virginia's 1950s policy of "massive resistance" to court-ordered racial integration of public schools.
"We still have Virginians who have suffered because of that, and he was front and center in that movement," Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, said after the House floor session.
A few white Democrats joined their black colleagues in a walkout similar to one staged last week when the Senate approved the resolution.
Thomas T. Byrd declined to react to the silent protest, focusing instead on the positive.
"It's quite an honor for our father to be recognized for his contributions," Byrd said in an interview. "We're proud of his service to the state and the nation."
Byrd followed his father into the U.S. Senate in 1965. Five years later, the outspoken advocate of fiscal discipline broke from the Democratic Party and became Virginia's first independent statewide officeholder. The resolution noted that Byrd cast more than 6,000 Senate votes, answered 96 percent of roll calls and declined several pay increases.
"What a distinguished career he had," Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said during the Senate ceremony.
Byrd's retirement in 1983 marked the end of the "Byrd Machine," which once dominated Virginia politics at all levels.
The resolution praises the former senator from Winchester as "a respected statesman and great Virginian" and says he "is remembered for his integrity and gentlemanly demeanor."