The Bible and Slavery
On the morning of 10 June 1964, Senator Robert C. Byrd, a former Kleagle of the West Virginia Ku Klux Klan, was concluding a fourteen-hour and thirteen-minute monologue on the floor of the United States Senate. His speech was part of a two-week-long filibuster of the United States Civil Rights Act. It was, and remains, the longest speech in the longest filibuster in the history of the Senate. Byrd had spoken all night and as the morning broke he turned to theology and the Bible. He was annoyed that ministers from across the country had filled his mailbox and jammed his phone lines in an attempt to “exert pressure” upon him to support the Act. He noted (incorrectly it should be added) that Virginia began importing slaves the same year that the King James Bible was published.1 Though he noted that he was not an expert in Scripture, he said he had spent considerable time searching to find “the Scriptural basis upon which we are implored to enact the proposed legislation…” After concluding his search he declared, “I find none.” In fact, he found the exact opposite. Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins convinced him that one must discriminate between the wise and foolish: “If all men are created equal, how can five of the virgins have been wise and five foolish?” To prove his point even more emphatically, he read Genesis 9.18-27 into the Congressional Record.2 To Byrd, Genesis
1 He was correct in noting 1619 as the beginning of the slave trade; he was eight years off with reference to the KJV Bible. What exactly that had to do with his argument is unclear.