W A S H I N G T O N, March 5, 2001 -- Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., apologized for hisuse of a racial epithet in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Asked about race relations today, the 83-year-old Byrd said inthe interview taped Friday with Fox News Sunday that they are“much, much better than they’ve ever been in my lifetime. ... Ithink we talk about race too much. I think those problems arelargely behind us.”
He continued: “I think we try to have good will. My old momtold me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ Wepractice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of whiteniggers in my time; I’m going to use that word.
“We just need to work together to make our country a bettercountry, 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 issuedan apology.
“I apologize for the characterization I used on this program.The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’ssociety. As for my language, I had no intention of castingaspersions on anyone of another race,” according to the statementread on air.
NAACP Chief Unimpressed by Apology
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume was not particularly impressed byByrd’s apology. He telephoned The Associated Press to say the factthat Byrd felt “comfortable enough on nationwide TV to refer toany group in that manner suggests that any progress he has made onrace is relative.”
Calling the remark “both repulsive and revealing,” the head ofthe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People saidhe assumes Byrd’s apology was well meant, but suggested there comesa time when a person has to avoid making remarks that requireapologies.