Sen. Byrd Apologizes for Racial Epithet

W A S H I N G T O N, March 5, 2001 -- Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., apologized for his use of a racial epithet in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Asked about race relations today, the 83-year-old Byrd said in the interview taped Friday with Fox News Sunday that they are “much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime. ... I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us.”

He continued: “I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ We practice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time; I’m going to use that word.

“We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I’d just as soon quit talking about it so much.”

Joined KKK in 1940s

Seconds before being asked about race relations, Byrd mentioned his membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s. He was reacting to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who recently admitted fathering a child with an employee of his nonprofit organization.

"He made a bad mistake," Byrd said. "We all make mistakes. I made a mistake when I was a young man. It's always been an albatross around my neck, joining the Ku Klux Klan."

The interviewer, Tony Snow, said that Byrd’s office later issued an apology.

“I apologize for the characterization I used on this program. The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’s society. As for my language, I had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone of another race,” according to the statement read on air.

NAACP Chief Unimpressed by Apology

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume was not particularly impressed by Byrd’s apology. He telephoned The Associated Press to say the fact that Byrd felt “comfortable enough on nationwide TV to refer to any group in that manner suggests that any progress he has made on race is relative.”

Calling the remark “both repulsive and revealing,” the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said he assumes Byrd’s apology was well meant, but suggested there comes a time when a person has to avoid making remarks that require apologies.