Joe Biden delivered a eulogy at Senator Robert Byrd's memorial service held on July 2, 2010, but Byrd was not a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to a Reuters' fact-check, the grand wizard is widely understood to be the highest leadership position of the KKK. Citing the Encyclopedia Britannica, it says, the grand wizard was followed by “a descending hierarchy of grand dragons, grand titans, and grand cyclopses.” A paper called “Hatred and Profits: Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan” published by the University of Chicago explains that the highest level within the organization is “the empire” and the grand wizard (or emperor) is the ultimate leader of the group. Exalted cyclopses preside over local groups and organize activities such as monthly meetings.
However, Byrd was not a grand wizard of the Klan but a former organizer and member of the KKK. A Washinton Post review of Byrd's memoir observes that Byrd recruited 150 of his friends and associates to form a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1940s. "After Byrd had collected the $10 joining fee and $3 charge for a robe and hood from every applicant, the "Grand Dragon" for the mid-Atlantic states came down to tiny Crab Orchard, W.Va., to officially organize the chapter.
As Byrd recalls now, the Klan official, Joel L. Baskin of Arlington, Va., was so impressed with the young Byrd's organizational skills that he urged him to go into politics," it states. Byrd was unanimously named “exalted cyclops” whose responsibilities included leading meetings and initiating incoming members.
Byrd served as U.S. Representative for the state of West Virginia from 1953 to 1959, and as a U.S. Senator from 1959 until he died in 2010. The Washington Post memoir states that when his opponents revealed his former ties to the KKK, Byrd went on the radio to acknowledge that he belonged to the Klan from "mid-1942 to early 1943 and that he had quit after about a year and dropped his membership, and never was interested in the Klan again.
In an interview with The Washington Post in 2005, Byrd said, 'I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.' In a 2005 memoir, he wrote: 'It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one's life, career, and reputation. Paradoxically, it was that same extraordinarily foolish mistake which led me into politics in the first place.'