Jesse Helms has died. As a native and current resident of North Carolina, even today many people I run into outside of this state who know little about it -- recognize the name Jesse Helms. He leaves a long, dark trail of professional racial bigotry (he opposed the MLK national holiday, and civil rights legislation) and homophobia (that list is so long, you don't know where to begin).
Former U.S. Sen. Jesse A. Helms, the son of a Monroe police chief who rose to national prominence as one of the leading lions of the American right, died early this morning. He was 86.
During a political career that began with his election to the Raleigh City Council in the late 1950s and included 30 years in the U.S. Senate, Jesse Alexander Helms endeared himself to conservatives throughout the country.
Helms became known as "Senator No" for his constant battles against everything from increased government spending to civil rights legislation to communism to the National Endowment for the Arts.
I viewed the late Senator many a time when he was a commentator on WRAL. For me, as a young child of color, his blunt, unforgiving, unacceptable views were distressing and surreal to watch.
Here are some quaint quotes from the former U.S. Senator, collected by the Raleigh N&O, which also has a timeline of his career:
"Unless our Negro citizens submit more easily than we predict they will, North Carolina does not have the simple choice between segregated schools and integrated schools. Our only choice is between integrated public schools and free-choice private schools. … The decision will have been made by a very small minority of people who are hell-bent on forced integration.""
"To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn't have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing." - Helms responding in 1956 to criticism that a fictional black character in his newspaper column was offensive.
"I shall always remember the shady streets, the quiet Sundays, the cotton wagons, the Fourth of July parades, the New Year's Eve firecrackers. I shall never forget the stream of school kids marching uptown to place flowers on the Courthouse Square monument on Confederate Memorial Day." - Helms writing in 1956 on life in his hometown of Monroe, N.C.