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Top Senate Democrat apologizes for slur

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd apologized Sunday for a slur he used during a discussion of race relations in a nationally broadcast interview.

In an interview taped Friday for "Fox News Sunday," Byrd, 83, was asked about race relations in the United States.

"They are much, much better than they've ever been in my lifetime," Byrd said, but added that he believed people talk about race too much.

"My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' We practice that. There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I'm going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much."

In apologizing, Byrd -- the Senate's senior Democrat -- said the phrase dated back to his childhood. In the same interview, Byrd also talked about joining the Ku Klux Klan in his youth, describing it as a mistake.

Interviewer Tony Snow did not ask Byrd about his use of the expression. But after the videotaped segment was played, Snow noted that Byrd had later apologized for his choice of words.

In a statement released by his office and read on Fox, Byrd expressed regret for the words.

"I apologize for the characterization I used on this program," he said. "The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today's society.

"As for my language, I had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone of another race," he said. "In my attempt to articulate strongly held feelings, I may have offended people."

"Unfortunately," he added, "there are people in every race who would rather attack others simply because of ill-conceived, false stereotypes based on skin color. People who do this are obstacles to positive race relations and become the stereotypes that they despise. But by working together and continually improving the understanding between the races, we can overcome these narrow-minded people and the obstacles that they represent."

His use of the term came about in his answer to a question about civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who recently admitted that he had an extramarital affair and fathered a child out of wedlock.

Byrd said he had "never been an enthusiastic admirer of Jesse Jackson" but that Jackson "made a bad mistake."

"We all make mistakes. I made a mistake when I was a young man -- it's always been an albatross around my neck -- in joining the Ku Klux Klan," Byrd said. "We all make mistakes. We can strive to overcome them. That's his situation. What he and his God work out between themselves, that's their business."

Byrd: Clinton legacy is lower standards, GOP Congress
March 4, 2001

U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

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