WHEELING, W.Va., Jan. 8, 2017 - The 100th birthday of the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd happens this year, and a traveling exhibit commemorating Byrd's life and career is coming to Wheeling Jesuit University this month.
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown has assembled the display “Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesman, West Virginian.” The exhibit will be on display between Jan. 24 and Feb. 16 at WJU's art gallery in Kirby Hall.
“We are honored to host this exhibit that chronicles the life and legacy of Sen. Byrd. We will host a special open reception at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 24 and invite the community to join us in Kirby Hall to view this wonderful display,” said Dr. Robert Phillips, vice president of Academics.
Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on Nov. 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, N.C., but was later adopted by his aunt and uncle in southern West Virginia and renamed Robert Cornelius Byrd while still an infant. He died June 28, 2010, at the age of 92, after serving more than 50 years in the Senate.
The Byrd Center in Shepherdstown is the archive that houses all of Byrd's congressional papers.
“This exhibit was produced to give people a view of the wealth of records available to study his career,” Jody Brumage, archivist and office manager at the Byrd Center, said. “This is the first time many of these items have been seen, and it provides a broad narrative on his career.
“It's been a remarkable project - getting to go out on the road, meet people and share their memories,” Brumage said. “It serves as a jogger for people to remember Senator Byrd and his legacy.”
Brumage said it took about two years for the center to create the traveling exhibit, which debuted at Shepherd University in April.
Since that time, the display has moved on to public venues in Parkersburg and at Tamarack in Beckley, as well as Bluefield State College, Concord University and West Virginia University.
In addition to Wheeling, the exhibit will be displayed at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, the Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins, the First National Bank of Williamson, Marshall University in Huntington and United Hospital Center in Bridgeport.
The exhibit is made of four separate fixtures, with the first providing an introduction to the exhibit, according to Brumage.
The second display is the largest and the most central to the exhibit, consisting of a timeline of Byrd's life and career. The third focuses on Byrd's hobbies and interests, among them music and historic research.
The fourth display often gets the most attention within the exhibit, Brumage said. It is a large reproduction of the map of West Virginia seen in Byrd's Senate office detailing the appropriations projects for which he was responsible in the state - with many of these occurring between 1989 and 2010 when Byrd was in a leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“The exhibit does a good job of telling his story, and of how he viewed the Senate, the nation's government and the Constitution. It also shows his role as defender of the Constitution, the times he felt it was under attack and his role in creating Constitution Day,” Brumage said. “It provides a very important look at one of our constitutional leaders and someone who represented democracy. People come away seeing how he truly loved the Senate, and how highly he regarded the Senate and its role in democracy.”