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Bill Honoring Segregationist Virginia Senator Prompts Walkout In Richmond

A statue honoring the late Sen. Harry Byrd stands outside the Capitol in Richmond.
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A statue honoring the late Sen. Harry Byrd stands outside the Capitol in Richmond.

Members of the Virginia Senate are honoring the late U.S. Senator Harry Byrd, but not everyone is participating in the celebration.

Most Senate sessions begin with a round of pomp and circumstance. Boy Scout troops are recognized, and resolutions are offered to celebrate high-school football teams or retired dignitaries. But yesterday's resolution to honor the late Harry Byrd, offered by Winchester Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel, was a little different.

"As you know, Senator Byrd was part of an important Democratic machine that ran the commonwealth of Virginia for a very long time. And all 140 of us walk past the statue of his father, which is out here. His father was the 50th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia," she said.

Almost all of the legislature's black members left the floor during the presentation honoring Byrd, a defender of Virginia's policy of massive resistance to court-ordered racial integration of public schools. A few white Democrats joined them, including Alexandria state Senator Adam Ebbin.

"It bothers me that someone who was a leader of massive resistance to close schools rather than desegregate them would be honored in this way," he said.

Byrd's two sons, his daughter-in-law and five of his nine grandchildren were in the chamber to receive the resolution. That's why Arlington State Senator Barbara Favola says she felt she had to stay rather than walk out as she did the last time the Senate considered a resolution honoring Byrd.

"When dignitaries are invited onto the floor of the Senate, they have to walk by my desk to greet the president of the Senate. So I just didn't think it would look right to have an empty desk," she said.

The resolution praises the former senator from Winchester as "a respected statesman and great Virginian.''

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