When exploring the collections at the Byrd Center, we often discover remarkable stories by following the trail though the various boxes and folders of records. Sometimes, the simplest object can have a dramatic and significant background. This week, we would like to share one such object and its intriguing context as illuminated by the Robert C. Byrd Congressional Papers Collection.
To understand the story of the plaque, we must first go back two years to 1985. Senate Minority Leader Byrd was selected to chair a delegation to the Soviet Union in advance of the upcoming Geneva Summit. President Ronald Reagan had asked Senator Byrd to lead the trip, which also included Senators Strom Thurmond, Claiborne Pell, Sam Nunn, Dennis DeConcini, Paul Sarbanes, John Warner, and George Mitchell. Their visit laid the groundwork for the president's forthcoming meeting with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Departing Washington on August 27, 1985, the delegation first visited Hungary before arriving in Moscow on August 31. After three days of meetings with various officials in the Soviet government, Senator Byrd and the delegation met with General Secretary Gorbachev at the Kremlin on September 3, 1985. In a meeting that lasted 3 hours and 35 minutes, Senator Byrd delivered an hour-long statement and letter from President Reagan focusing primarily on arms control. The report of the visit, including Senator Byrd's statement, was distributed throughout the Senate following the delegation's return to Washington. Senator Byrd discussed the trip in an interview with C-SPAN on October 18, 1985.
In the course of these various meetings leading up to the ratification of the INF Treaty, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev presented Senator Byrd with this plaque, an artifact of the years of tenuous negotiations that paved the way for the end of the Cold War. The Byrd Center Archives was fortunate to acquire this historic object from the U.S. Senate Commission on Art in 2011.