I’m sure that by now you’ve heard the story: as the nation was celebrating its Independence, July 4th also commemorated the day that Jesse Helms — one of the most racist and unapologetic politicians to be found — died of natural causes. He was 86.
I would never go on record declaring my happiness about someone’s demise. But I will admit that I have yet to shed a single tear for Mr. Helms. Whenever I try to muster up any sympathy for Sen. Helms or I come close to getting caught up in the right’s tributes to his legacy, I recall some of his more memorable quotes:
– When speaking on equal rights: “I’m a conservative progressive, and that means I think all men are equal, be they slants, beaners, or niggers.”
– When referring to gays and AIDS: “It’s their deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct that is responsible for the disease”
– When commenting on education: “Your tax dollars are being used to pay for grade-school classes that teach our children that cannibalism, wife-swapping and murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior.”
– Regarding civil rights: “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.”
– When referring to members of the media: “The New York Times and Washington Post are both infested with homosexuals themselves. Just about every person down there is a homosexual or lesbian.”
– In an address to Duke University students after MLK’s assassination: “[White students] should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro.”
The truth is simple: I don’t know if Helms became a redeemed soul as Death came knocking on his door. That was only known by Helms and the Creator. But his legacy as far as I can tell has been spoiled by his overshadowing racism, sexism, and homophobia. I can only hope that he saw the error of his ways and the destructiveness of his agenda before it was too late.