Thursday, June 09, 2005

Jesse Helms 

Helms is steadfast, though, about his views on race. He was one of North Carolina's leading voices of segregation as a TV commentator in Raleigh in the 1960s. He opposed nearly every civil rights bill while in the Senate and often made black political leaders the focus of his campaigns.

Unlike other prominent segregationists of the era, such as Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Helms has never said his views on race were wrong. And he has never said that segregation was wrong.

Instead, he suggests in the book that he favored voluntary racial integration that would have come about without pressure from the federal government, or from civil rights protests -- which he said only sharpened racial antagonisms.

"I did not advocate segregation, and I did not advocate aggravation," Helms writes. "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."

He added: "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."
Of course, calling Jesse Helms racist is like calling the sky blue, but still.


I was a little more offended by another part of the same article:
[Helms]admits to being wrong about the AIDS epidemic. Helms was the subject of strong criticism from the gay community because of his outspoken opposition to laws to protect homosexuals from discrimination, to funding for AIDS research and to other related issues.

But in his final years in the Senate, Helms said his views evolved because of old friends such as North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham and new ones such as rock singer Bono, both of whom got him involved in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

"Until then," Helms writes, "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."
Translation: I used to think only gay people died from AIDS, so I didn't care. Once Bono taught me that straight people can also get AIDS, I decided that it mattered.
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