Byrd legacy to rest here
As West Virginia mourns the loss of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s leadership, the charge of preserving the legacy of history’s longest serving congressional legislator for future generations falls to the task of a small team of local archivists and historians at the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies in Shepherdstown.
There, a small team of archivists and political historians are preparing to receive a vast amount of documents covering the late Senator’s nearly 57-year Congressional career.The clock is ticking, too. According to Senate rules, all of Sen. Byrd’s personal records and documents have to be removed within a month, even if they are the longest serving senator in U.S. history.
“It’s a daunting task,” said Raymond Smock, director of the Byrd Center, on Monday afternoon as he walked through the center’s archives which already contain about 600 cubic feet of records. “It’s probably going to be several thousand more, we’ll probably need additional storage.”
Byrd died early Monday morning at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. He was 92 years old, and had cast over 18,000 votes in his Congressional career.
Normally, a senator is provided with one storeroom for personal records. Senator Byrd’s records are currently housed in three congressional storerooms, an exception granted only to Byrd, said Smock, who himself used to be the official historian of the U.S. Senate. Over the next month, Byrd Center archivists will be working closely with the late senator’s staff to transfer as many of the documents as they can to Shepherdstown for preservation.
By law, Congress already preserves the official records of the Senate and the Senate Committees. But the official records are only part of the story, says Smock. “You don’t have the personal papers, personnel leadership matters and constiuent correspondence. Those aspects of his career are incredibly important and need to be preserved.”
The Byrd Center is similar in many respects to a modern Presidential Library. The information contained in the soon-to-be massive collection of congressional documents at the Byrd Center could also shed light on how the Senate functions on a day-to-day basis. “One of the least understood aspects of the Senate is how the leadership works,” said Smock. “Byrd is the only Senator to have held every leadership position in the Senate, from Deputy Whip to President Pro Tempre.”
The process of archiving and preserving Sen. Byrd’s documents will take several years, according to David Hostetter, Director of Programs and Research at the Byrd Center. The center’s 600 cubic feet of documents are what Hostetter terms as “the beginnings of Senator Byrd’s collection.” Archivists have been steadily working through those records since 2005, and they have still not finished.
The documents the Byrd Center already has are housed in a locked wing of Shepherd University’s Scarborough Library on North King Street.
Eventually the collection will contain all of Byrd’s records from his time in the House and the Senate. Currently among the collection are boxes upon boxes of records from his career, as well as a braille edition of Sen. Byrd’s 1989 “History of the U.S. Senate.”
Another shelf near the rear of the building holds a wall of binders containing Byrd’s research on the senate of the ancient Roman Republic, which eventually became his 1995 book “The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism.” Some of the binders still bear labels and margin notations written Sen. Byrd’s distinctive wavering handwriting. Byrd was an avid student of Roman history, and often drew parallels between the politics of ancient Rome and modern America.
Of all the artifacts and documents in the Byrd Center archives, Hostetter says that perhaps the most important are the letters to and from the voters of West Virginia. “It represents the dialog which he had with the people of this state during his service.”
The Byrd Center also houses the archives of the late Rep. Harley O. Staggers, Sr., who represented West Virginia’s 2nd District from 1949 to 1981, as well as the records of his son, Rep. Harley O. Staggers Jr., who represented the same district from 1983 to 1993.
Smock says that the eventual goal is to digitize the collection. “That’s the future of archives, a lot of researchers do not have the opportunity to come to the Byrd Center personally,” says Smock. “And there are a lot of people around the world interested in Byrd’s career.”
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Friday, July 2, 2010
12:01 a.m.-9 a.m. Public Viewing in Rotunda of State Capitol
11:30 a.m. Memorial Service and Celebration of Life, West Virginia State Capitol, Capitol’s North Plaza
12:30 p.m. Memorial Service and Celebration of Life concludes
4 p.m. Casket removed from West Virginia State Capitol Building.
Proceed to Yeager Airport in Charleston, Departs for Andrews AFB
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
11 a.m. Funeral Service
Memorial Baptist Church
3455 North Glebe Road
Open to the Public limited seating