From the Appalachian Coalfields to 9 Senate Terms
The 'astonishing arc' of Robert Byrd's life
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2010 8:50 AM CDT
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 1977 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., plays a tune on his fiddle, as he appeared on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" show in Washington. T   (AP Photo/ABC-TV, File)
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(Newser) – Robert Byrd, who died today at age 92, rose from a hardscrabble childhood in the coalfields of West Virginia to become the longest-serving member of Congress in history. Those who knew the conservative Democrat remember him as a self-taught man of iron will (he remains the only congressman to have put himself through law school while in office), a fiery orator who spent his almost six decades in Congress delivering as much federal money as possible to his impoverished home state while also defending the legislative branch in the face of expanding presidential power, reports the Washington Post.

Byrd's membership in the Ku Klux Klan in 1942-43 haunted his political life for decades, though the one-time segregationist slowly came to support civil rights. In recent years, he sharply criticized George Bush and the war in Iraq. Fellow West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller said of Byrd that “before you can make life better, you have to have a road to get in there, and you have to have a sewerage system and all those things, and he has done that for most of the state.” Ted Kennedy said in 2005 that Byrd's legacy would be “his passion for preserving the institution" of the Senate "and its prerogatives,” the New York Times reports.