Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ding Dong, Jesse's Dead

I was always taught to not speak ill of the dead, and it seems that that is the norm in our society. Often times when people die their obits point out their positives, disregard their negatives, and in many cases, flat out lie to make their lives seem more noble than they actually were. This is definitely the case with Jesse Helms, as media outlets downplay his true legacy of Old Southern-style racism in the wake of his death.

Helms, the senator from North Carolina, died on July 4. He served for 5 terms as North Carolina's senator for over 30 years until he retired in 2003. Given his well-known reputation as a bigot, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who openly admits to voting for him, but his support from those voters of the Old South kept him in Washington for many years, proving that old ways die hard.

The above clip is one of Helms' most famous acts of race-baiting on the campaign trail. In 1990, black Democrat Harvey Gantt challenged Helms' Senate seat and built a healthy lead in the polls leading up to election day. After the infamous "White Hands" ad, the polls shifted and Helms won convincingly.

Even in death, I have no respect for this man. With the possible exception of Strom Thurmond, Helms is easily the most racist and divisive figure in modern American politics. In addition to being the only senator to oppose the MLK Holiday, he was consistently the lone dissenting voice on a plethora of civil rights bi-partisan legislation that have strengthened race and gender relations.

Here are just a few of Helms despicable moments as written by Washington Post writer David Broder:

As an aide to the 1950 Senate campaign of North Carolina Republican candidate Willis Smith, Helms reportedly helped create attack ads against Smith's opponent, including one which read: "White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races." Another ad featured photographs Helms himself had doctored to illustrate the allegation that Graham's wife had danced with a black man. (The News and Observer, 8/26/01; The New Republic, 6/19/95; The Observer, 5/5/96; Hard Right: The Rise of Jesse Helms, by Ernest B. Furgurson, Norton, 1986)

Ancient history? No. Helms remains unapologetic to this day. Forty years after the Smith campaign, Helms would win election against black opponent Harvey Gantt with another ad playing to racist white fear-- the so-called "white hands" ad, in which a white man's hands crumple a rejected job application while a voiceover intones, "You needed that job…but they had to give it to a minority."

In columns, commentaries and pronouncements from the Senate floor, Helms sowed hatred and called names: The University of North Carolina was "the University of Negroes and Communists." (Capital Times, 11/22/94) Black civil rights activists were "Communists and sex perverts." (Copley News Service, 8/23/01)

Of civil rights protests Helms wrote, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." (WRAL-TV commentary, 1963) He also wrote, "Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced." (New York Times, 2/8/81)

Over the years Helms has declared homosexuality "degenerate," and homosexuals "weak, morally sick wretches." (Newsweek, 12/5/94) In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy." (States News Service, 5/17/88)

Helms remonstrated ten female members of the House of Representatives to "act like ladies" when they interrupted a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to demand support of a U.N. treaty against gender discrimination, and subsequently had them removed from the hearing by Capitol police. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/28/99)

And the man ABC News now describes as a "conservative icon" (8/22/01) in 1993 sang "Dixie" in an elevator to Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, bragging, "I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries." (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5/93)

More recently, when a caller to CNN's Larry King Live show praised guest Jesse Helms for "everything you've done to help keep down the niggers," Helms' response was to salute the camera and say, "Well, thank you, I think." (Wilmington Star-News, 9/16/95)

Finally, Helms' strong if sometimes shadowy support for violent, anti-democratic forces abroad, from South Africa to El Salvador, might have given media outlets further pause in describing him as a mere conservative; few probed his ties to groups that would more accurately be described as fascist. One exception was an editorial in the Boston Globe (8/23/01): "Helms' role in supporting foreign thugs such as Roberto D'Aubuisson, the cashiered Salvadoran major who ran death squads responsible for savage political murders, did lasting harm to America's good name. In South Africa, Argentina, Mozambique, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Helms cooperated with racists and fascists who have nothing in common with the ideals of American democracy."

Even after all those instances of blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance, Helms asserted that he was no racist:

"I am not a racist, nor am I a bigot. You can ask any Black that knows me and they'll tell you I'm not a racist!"

Wow... The world seems to have gotten a little bit brighter.


Carah H. said...

Good piece. I thought I was the only one who felt this way! As the coverage of Jesse's death splashed across the headlines on Independence Day (the irony...), I felt as though I was in the "Twilight Zone" because of all the praise he was receiving, as though he wasn't a racist, a bigot and -- to put it in Layman's terms -- a hot ass mess.

Is it just me, or are you kinda sorta waiting for the news to come out that he has a long lost Black daughter out here, like his boy and fellow former Senator, Strom Thurmond.

I guess that's why so many people were quick to quip, "America's not ready for a Black president" when Obama first threw his hat in the ring. Living in a nation where fellas like Jesse, Strom, Ronald Reagan and even George W. REPEATEDLY get voted into public office makes you wonder what and how Americans TRULY think behind closed doors; behind the curtain of political correctness. Either the divisive, ludicrous, hateful opinions of Don Imus and the entire FOX [non-]News staff are more widespread than we think, or perhaps these guys are pros at affiliating themselves with genius PR/marketing gurus and political strategists who know how to play up hot button issues (e.g. abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigration. Case in point: Karl Rove/ 2004 presidential election). Though these issues are noteworthy, they unfairly overshadow the more important issues time and time again. Another shining example of this is the "White Hands" ad that you pointed out.

I, too, was taught not to speak ill of the dead. But I'm sincere when I say I'm glad Jesse Helms is dead. Good riddance.

Jermel said...

I know what you mean. I was in Durham for the 4th of July weekend, and you would've thought someone equivalent to MLK, JFK, or Nelson Mandela died. I understand he was fixture in NC politics for years, but this guy counts as one of the few reasons to be ashamed of being from NC. My aunt who lives in Maryland would call my mom everytime he got re-elected and say, "Why did yall vote him back in office again?" Of course, she my mom had nothing to do with it, but it demonstrates the frustration of those outside of NC had for the contempt we had for him in NC at the time. Students from schools all over the state should have been rallying against this guy every chance they had, but instead they missed the boat. It's one thing to be conservative, but this guy was clearly an old school southern racist. The type who didn't want to see desegreation and civil rights. In his eyes blacks and other minorities were second class citizens. To me his death should've been a blip on the radar, and I believe outside of NC it was. I haven't heard anything about it since I've been back in Maryland.

Few Redeeming Qualities.... said...

yeah there is no love loss here. he really set the nation and nc back for many years. he embodied much of that old school redneck rhetoric blanketed by supposed conservativism and religion. with his archaic ways his "legacy" should not be celebrated in any way. but it still exists. he preyed upon those suppressed racist and bigotted ideals which people still hold ontom yet many times are afraid to express. those same people will cross party lines to vote for mccain. they will disregard our current peril, just to keep a black man out of the highest office.