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Jesse Helms memoirs: race matters

“I did not advocate segregation, and I did not advocate aggravation…By that I mean that I thought it was wrong for people who did not know, and who did not care, about the relationships between neighbors and friends to force their ideas about how communities should work on the people who had built those communities in the first place. I believed right would prevail as people followed their own consciences.”
— former Tar Heel Senator Jesse Helms

I would watch good old Jesse back in the day when he was a commentator on WRAL in Raleigh. I remember as a child listening to him rail on race on our black and white TV. I wondered why this man was so hateful. You didn’t have to be an adult to get the clear message that he didn’t like black folks encroaching on his lily-white world. They belonged in their place.

“We will never know how integration might have been achieved in neighborhoods across our land, because the opportunity was snatched away by outside agitators who had their own agendas to advance. We certainly do know the price paid by the stirring of hatred, the encouragement of violence, the suspicion and distrust. We do know that too many lives were lost, businesses were destroyed, millions of dollars were diverted from books and teachers to support the cost of buses and gasoline. We do know that turning our public schools into social laboratories almost destroyed them.”

His upcoming memoirs (“Here’s Where I Stand,” scheduled to be published by Random House in September) are unapologetic on that front, but he actually cracks on his stance on AIDS. Give him a cookie. A tiny one.

It had been my feeling that AIDS was a disease largely spread by reckless and voluntary sexual and drug-abusing behavior, and that it would probably be confined to those in high risk populations. I was wrong.”

I can tell you personally, having written the former Senator, his office excelled in constituent services. Letters were responded to promptly and with specificity to your concern (even if you didn’t agree with him). With Helms, he realized his power to be re-elected was gained by fulfilling his state’s needs and communicating effectively on a personal level. That level of communication, infused with southern gentility, goes over well here, and will continue to do so.

Helms on John Edwards: “It is always nice to see a North Carolinian in the national limelight — like Clay Aiken and Fantasia Barrino’s success on the ‘American Idol’ television program, or the Carolina Panthers reaching the Super Bowl in 2004 — but watching a nice man with so little experience or familiarity with national and international issues try to project himself as an expert … struck me as ‘overreaching.'”

Jesse didn’t like the homos, either, but if you read this blog or are old enough to remember his spewing on the Senate floor, you already knew that. He was a man ahead of his time; he’d fit right in with the AmTaliban wrecking crew we’re dealing with today. The irony is that his granddaughter is a open lesbian (and was elected as a judge last year). I have no idea how that news went over in the Helms household, but Jesse also didn’t mind receiving down and dirty political services from Arthur Finkelstein. The openly gay man, who recently married his partner in Massachusetts, worked with Jesse Helms on his Senate run against Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt.

I was living in NC during this time period, and it was the nastiest, most racist campaign the GOP has seen in a lifetime. It was a close race (Gantt leading 47-45 percent), until Finkelstein ran the infamous “white hands commercial” showing a close up pair of a flannel-shirtsleeved hands crumpling a job pair of white hands crumpling a termination notice, with an ominous voiceover explaining that a well-deserved job went to someone else because of affirmative action. This appealed to the blue collar, textile working folks in the rural areas, and Helms won handily.

Jesse with his lesbian granddaughter (and recently elected district judge in North Carolina), Jennifer Knox Helms. Get a bust of him at Jesse Helms Center Museum Store. Ugh.

I really don’t want this man, who made a career out of bigotry and intolerance, making a dime off of this book. But I’m sure the wingnuts will be lining up to get it at local bookshops. And if he isn’t too feeble to do a book signing, I’m sure the lines will be out the door.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding