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Rosa Parks arrives at circuit court to be arraigned in the racial bus boycott, Feb. 24, 1956 in Montgomery, Ala. (AP) Rosa Parks arrives at circuit court to be arraigned in the racial bus boycott, Feb. 24, 1956 in Montgomery, Ala. (AP)

Rosa Parks arrives at circuit court to be arraigned in the racial bus boycott, Feb. 24, 1956 in Montgomery, Ala. (AP)

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 1, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • The images in the post show Joe Biden and Robert Byrd at a campaign rally in October 2008, when Biden was a candidate for vice president, and Donald Trump and Rosa Parks at a 1986 ceremony for recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called President Donald Trump a racist, but a recent social media post tries to flip the script. 

It shows two photos. In one, Biden is holding the hand of then-Sen. Robert Byrd. In the other, Trump is standing next to activist Rosa Parks. 

"Biden with Robert Byrd, KKK leader," the post says. "Trump with Rosa Parks, civil rights activist."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

First let’s look at the photo of Biden and Byrd, who died in 2010.

The image in the Facebook post shows Biden and Byrd at a campaign rally in downtown Charleston, W.Va., in October 2008, when Biden was a Democratic senator from Delaware and Barack Obama’s running mate.

By the time Byrd died in 2010, he had served in the Senate longer than anyone else; the New York Times described him as "a pillar of Capitol Hill." In a statement, Obama called him "a voice of principle and reason." Biden said Byrd was "a dear friend."

But Byrd did once lead a chapter of the KKK in West Virginia. According to the late Democrat’s memoir, he was the "Exalted Cyclops" of the 150-member chapter in the early 1940s and worked as a recruiter for the Klan until early 1943. 

He then left the state for a welding job in Baltimore and returned to West Virginia after World War II ended, according to the book. A letter he sent in 1945 to Theodore Bilbo, a Democratic senator and segregationist from Mississippi, reveals his views at the time about efforts to integrate the military. 

"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," he wrote.

 Byrd was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates the following year and again in 1948. In 1950, he was elected to the state Senate and in 1952, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. It was then that political opponents disclosed his former ties to the KKK, according to a 2005 article in the Washington Post titled "A Senator’s Shame." 

Byrd acknowledged he belonged to the Klan from "mid-1942 to early 1943" and said he joined "because it offered excitement and because it was strongly opposed to communism." 

He said he quit after a year, but contemporaneous newspaper accounts and letters show that Byrd was involved with the Klan throughout much of the 1940s, according to the Washington Post. In 1946, for example, he said in a letter to the Grand Wizard that "the Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia."

Byrd won the 1952 House election and "then spent decades apologizing for what he called a ‘sad mistake,’" according to the New York Times. His civil rights record is mixed. He voted for civil rights legislation in 1957 and in 1960 as a senator, but he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he said the measure infringed on states’ rights. He said he voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Acts and its renewal in 1970 for the same reason. But after becoming a party leader in the Senate, he consistently supported civil rights legislation and he backed Obama’s presidential bid.

Next, let’s look at the photo of Trump and Rosa Parks

It was taken in 1986, when Trump, Parks, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, comedian Victor Borge, singer Anita Bryant, and boxer Muhammad Ali each received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The photo shows all six medal recipients standing together. 

A spokesperson for the Ellis Island Honors Society, which administers the award, told us that the society promotes diversity and understanding among religious and ethnic groups and restoration and maintenance of Ellis Island. 

Trump was chosen for his professional contributions as a developer that benefited New York City, and for his German heritage. His recognition resulted from "doing well for the city of New York" through his business endeavors. Parks, meanwhile, was honored for standing up to adversity. Her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 was a turning point in civil rights history, kicking off a boycott of the bus system to protest segregated seating.

A longtime activist with the NAACP, Parks pushed for desegregation, encouraged voter registration and sought justice for wrongfully accused black men, the Washington Post recounted in a 2015 article. 

After enduring death threats for her activism in Alabama, she relocated in 1957 to Detroit, where she continued her advocacy work. She died in 2005.

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Looking at photos of Joe Biden, Robert Byrd, Donald Trump and Rosa Parks