In the early 1940s, Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to create a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to Byrd, a Klan official told him, "You have a talent for leadership, Bob ... The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd later recalled, "suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did." Byrd held the titles Kleagle (recruiter) and Exalted Cyclops. When it came time to elect the "Exalted Cyclops", the top officer in the local Klan unit, Byrd won unanimously.
In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore G. Bilbo:
“ I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side ... Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds. ”
— Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944
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