“I continue to believe, just as earnestly as I believed then, that the development of the human mind is all important, and that education should be a continuing thing, extending beyond high school and college, and that one should never stop learning.” These words, written by Robert Byrd in his autobiography, speak volumes to the incredible intellect and thirst for knowledge that so defined the senator.
The binder contains a travel diary from Byrd’s round-world trip as part of the Foreign Affairs Committee in 1955. Only in his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, the opportunity must have been thrilling for the congressman who had rarely been outside the mountains of West Virginia, let alone the United States.
The beginning of the book relates Byrd’s travel from D.C. to Newfoundland, and then to Paris, France. Notes include the changes in time zone with each destination and departure. Byrd notes that he asked the plane’s engineer to explain how the engines worked, how much horsepower they provided, and even their fuel economy and duration of service. Upon landing in France, the notebook contains a page of French phrases with pronunciation notes, showing Byrd’s desire to ensure that he would be capable of communicating with the acquaintances he was to make without relying solely on a translator.
Beyond the simple statistics of travel and typical preparation, Byrd’s notes shift to focus more on cultural observations, including notes on the traffic in the city, customs observed at local restaurants, and the history of places he visits, including the hotel in which he is accommodated. Byrd’s trip would take him far beyond France to destinations in Rome, Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land, where his notes reflect his amazement to experience the tangible remnants of a land and culture he was well versed in owing to his religious upbringing.
The notes contained within this small binder provided Byrd with a full chapter in his autobiography. While it is easy to overlook items in a collection on the scale of ours here at the Byrd Center, closer inspection often reveals unique and valuable insights into people and events of the past, not only building the provenance of an artifact, but the importance of our mission in preserving the legacy of Senator Robert C. Byrd.