Imagine the irony of learning today that Jesse Helms, retired Senator from North Carolina, died today. Today being July 4, Independence Day, which we use to celebrate our freedom.
What freedom? Thanks to Jesse Helms and others like him, homosexuals still do not have the right to marry in most states of the USA, all in the name of “traditional family values”. Tell me, bigots, how does allowing gays to marry threaten YOUR families? And what about all the other bigotries Helms was notorious for?
Helms blamed gays and lesbians for “the proliferation of AIDS,” and stating he disliked using the word “gay” to refer to them since, “…there’s nothing gay about them.”
Of civil rights protests Helms stated in 1963 that “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)
Helms’ referred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as the “University of Negroes and Communists.” (Charleston Gazette, 9/15/95)
Soon after the Senate vote on the Confederate flag insignia, Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) ran into Mosely-Braun in a Capitol elevator. Helms turned to his friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), and said, “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie‘ until she cries.” He then proceeded to sing the song about “the good life” during slavery to Mosely-Braun (Gannett News Service, 9/2/93; Time, 8/16/93).
While working on the 1950 Democrat primary campaign of Willis Smith against Frank Porter Graham, Helms helped create an ad that 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. (FAIR 9/1/01, The News and Observer 8/26/01)
When Roberta Achtenberg was appointed Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, Helms attempted to block her confirmation, stating that he refused to vote for her “because she’s a damn lesbian.”
In 1994 Helms spoke out against metal industrial singer Marilyn Manson. Manson responded by painting an anti-gay slur on his chest during a show in Winston-Salem, in a sarcastic and critical display against Helms’s social viewpoints.
Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker noted in his memoirs that Helms had “the ‘humorous habit'” of calling all black people “Fred”.
Helms used race issues in many elections; for instance, in 1990, he ran the famous “Hands” television ad in a tough re-election race. The ad has become legendary in Southern political circles as the most direct appeal to white backlash in modern American politics. The ad played upon white voters’ ideas that affirmative action might lead to a job going to a less-qualified candidate (“Gantt supports Ted Kennedy’s racial quota law, that makes the color of your skin more important than your qualifications.”) (watch the ad).
Helms opposed an amendment offering war reparations to Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II; he proposed an amendment stipulating that no reparations would be made unless the Japanese government compensated the families of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor.
In 1994, Helms created a sensation when, on the anniversary of John F. Kennedy‘s assassination, he told broadcasters Rowland Evans, Jr., and Robert Novak that Clinton was “not up” to the tasks of being commander-in-chief and suggested that Clinton had “better not show up around here [Fort Bragg] without a bodyguard.”
Helms was a strong supporter of drug prohibition, and opposed former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld‘s nomination as Ambassador to Mexico because Weld supported medical marijuana. Helms proposed several bills as part of the war on drugs.
Perhaps we can celebrate this day after all, while the family of Jesse Helms cannot. Sometimes, justice DOES happen in this screwed up world!