Does this photo show Joe Biden with the “Great Wizard of the KKK”?


A photo shared to social media in June 2019 showed former Vice President Joe Biden with the Great Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.


Labeled wrong

What’s true

The 2008 photo shows Biden with Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Senator who was a member and organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s.

What is wrong

However, Byrd was never the “Great Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, and he later recanted his past white racist views, saying his membership of the KKK was the “biggest mistake” he ever made years before he met Biden was photographed during the election campaign.

In late June 2019, on the eve of the first Democratic primary debates, social media user divided a meme claiming to show the 2020 candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden holding hands in solidarity with the head of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Biden with Grand Wizard of KKK. So who plays you again, lies to you, uses you for votes, creator of the KKK, defied civil rights [sic] from blacks. Yes that is [sic] the Democratic Party.”


The meme appears to be a screenshot of June 26th tweet posted by @UnclePhilly which itself may have been a slight modification by @borderfox116 tweet earlier that same day, which again may have been a twist on a tweet Posted this morning by @PROCITY_INTL.

We have received several inquiries from readers regarding the veracity of the claim that the meme featured Biden with the “Great Wizard of the KKK.” Questions particularly arose following the June 27 Democratic primary debate in Miami, Fla., with US Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) criticized Biden’s record of the Legislature Cooperation with two prominent segregationists, James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, while Biden was Senator for Delaware in the 1970s.

The picture in question was taken by Associated Press Photographer Bob Bird, in Charleston, West Virginia October 24, 2008. It shows Biden, then running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, at a campaign event with U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (DW.Va) and West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin. Biden holds the hand of US Senator Robert Byrd (DW.Va).


There is an important grain of truth in the meme, as Byrd was actually an active member and organizer of the KKK in the 1940s. However, he never held the position of “Grand Wizard” in the organization. By the time Biden emerged at his side at the 2008 rally, Byrd had long since abandoned his earlier white supremacist views, and he publicly apologized for his membership in the KKK, which he has more than once called the “biggest mistake” he’s ever made made.

Robert Byrd’s KKK commitment

When Byrd died in June 2010 as the longest-serving US Senator in history, he left behind a complicated legacy. He joined the KKK in the early 1940s and was still a supporter in 1946, although he later said he had only been a member for about a year. When his Klan activities became a serious threat to Byrd’s 1952 campaign for the US House of Representatives, he downplayed his involvement in a radio interview, saying:

“I was only 24 at the time and joined the Order because it offered excitement and because it was staunchly anti-Communism. After about a year, I became disinterested, stopped paying my dues, and terminated my membership in the organization. During the nine years that followed, I never took an interest in the Klan…”

Later in the 1952 campaign, however, that was shown to be false when Byrd’s Republican opponents published a letter he had written in 1946 – three years after he claimed to have dropped all interest in the KKK – to Samuel Green, who was in Georgia-based “Imperial Wizard” of the organization. In the letter (which can be read here in its original handwritten form), Byrd wrote:

“The Klan is needed today as never before and I look forward to seeing its rebirth here in West Virginia… It is necessary that the Order be promoted immediately and in every state of the Union. Would you please inform me about the possibilities? rebuild the Klan in the realm of West Virginia.”

In the letter, Byrd identified himself as a former “Kleagle” (KKK organizer and recruiter) in and around Raleigh County, West Virginia.

He survived the ensuing controversy, was elected to the US House of Representatives, and won election to the US Senate in 1958, where he served for more than 51 years until his death in 2010, holding the position of Senate Majority Leader for two terms Late 1970s and late 1980s.

However, Byrd’s white supremacist past has resurfaced over the past several decades. In 1988, when Byrd was Senate Majority Leader for the second time, author Graham Smith surfaced even more disturbing words from Byrd.

As part of his research for a historical book on the experiences of black American soldiers in Britain during World War II, Smith discovered that Byrd had written the following words in a 1945 letter he wrote to then Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, a white man himself Racist and Klansman:

“I am loyal to my country and I only know in awe of their flag, but I will never submit to fight under that banner with a Negro at my side. Rather should I die a thousand times and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt, never to rise again, than see this beloved land of ours degraded by mixed races, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wild.

In 1988, a spokesman for Byrd told Los Angeles TimeS The senator had “no recollection” of writing the letter and “regretted” his language.

“Biggest mistake I’ve ever made”

When Biden was pictured campaigning alongside Byrd in 2008, the West Virginia senator had refrained from his previous racist remarks for years and repeatedly expressed his regret and embarrassment at his involvement with the KKK. In a 1993 interview at CNN, for example, Byrd said:

“…It’s easy to say what my biggest mistake was. The biggest mistake I ever made was joining the Ku Klux Klan. And I’ve said that many times. But you can’t erase what he did He can only change his ways and his thoughts. That was an albatross around my neck that I will always wear. You will read in my obituary that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Speaking to the same network in 2006, Byrd called Again: “I never hesitated to say that this was the biggest mistake of my life. He will always be there. And it will be in my obituary.”

In his 2005 memoirs “Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” Byrd wrote at length about what he called the “extremely stupid mistake” of joining the KKK:

It had been a stupid mistake to ever contact the Klan. I was gripped by the idea of ​​being part of an organization that had so many “leading” people. I wanted to prove my organizing and recruiting skills, and I appreciated the encouragement and praise I received for my efforts. I had succumbed to some of the positive messages the Klan was spreading, such as patriotism, preserving and protecting the American way of life, and opposing Communism. I had also been influenced by the conversations I had heard from boarders and my mother’s and father’s home, which reflected the typical southern view of the time. Blacks were generally distrusted by many whites, and I suspect they were subtly feared. And while I was particularly drawn to the Klan’s pro-American, anti-Communist message, I definitely reflected the fears and prejudices I’d heard growing up.

Looking back on the experience now, I am confused. Almost every black person I knew as a young man I had had good experiences with. I had been to their homes selling produce and found most black families I knew friendly, law-abiding, and godly. Still, I sensed this distrust and distrust of black people in general that was common at the time and place. As far as Catholics, Jews and foreign-born people were concerned, I felt no bias towards them. Yet I have embraced an organization that has been spreading messages of distaste for these groups without ever pausing to examine the full meaning and impact of the ugly prejudices behind the positive, pro-American veneer.

… My only explanation for the entire episode is that I was severely afflicted with tunnel vision – a jejeune and immature point of view – and only saw what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could be an outlet for my talents and ambitions offer. It has appeared all my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very vivid way what a big mistake can mean to someone’s life, career and reputation. Paradoxically, it was the same extraordinarily stupid mistake that got me into politics in the first place.

At his funeral in July 2010, Byrd received praise from former President Bill Clinton, as well as from Biden himself and then-President Obama. Obama alluded to Byrd’s past involvement in white supremacist activities:

“Of course Robert Byrd was a deeply religious man, a Christian. And so he understood that our lives are marked by sins as well as virtues, failures and successes, weaknesses and strengths. We know there are things he said and things he did that he regretted. I remember talking about it when I first visited him. He said, “There are things I regretted growing up. You may know that.” And I said, “None of us lacks any regrets, Senator. That’s why we enjoy and seek the grace of God.” And when I think about the entirety of his 92 years, it seems to me that his life was dedicated to justice. Like the Constitution he put in his pocket, like our nation itself, Robert Byrd had that all-American quality, and that’s an ability to change, an ability to learn, an ability to listen, an ability to be perfected .”

. Does this photo show Joe Biden with the “Great Wizard of the KKK”?

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