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June 9, 2005
Jesse Helms Remains Clueless

For Republicans around the country, the retirement of Jesse Helms has allowed many to breathe a little easier since 2003. While Helms' stalwart positions on foreign policy provided America much-needed backbone, especially in relation to the United Nations, his domestic views often caused unnecessary controversy and embarrassment. Helms routinely fell back into name-calling on AIDS and gay-rights issues and never renounced his segregationist past. Neither of these helped the GOP in reaching out to traditionally Democratic populations and made achieving majority status substantially more difficult than it had to be.

Now Helms will publish his memoirs, "Here's Where I Stand," intending on setting the record straight. He apologizes for his earlier remarks on AIDS, but still refuses to back down on his opposition to the civil-rights movement:

In his upcoming memoir, former Sen. Jesse Helms acknowledges he was wrong about the AIDS epidemic but believes integration was forced before its time by outside agitators who had their own agendas. ...

Helms, 83, was one of the states leading voices of segregation as a TV commentator in Raleigh in the 1960s and opposed nearly every civil rights bill while in the Senate. He has never retracted his views on race or said segregation was wrong.

In the book, Helms suggests he believed voluntary racial integration would come about without pressure from the federal government or from civil rights protests that he said sharpened racial antagonisms.

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, according to the uncorrected proof. We certainly do know the price paid by the stirring of hatred, the encouragement of violence, the suspicion and distrust.

I'll grant Helms this much: if he had talked this way about the late 1860s and the radically punitive Reconstruction, he might have had a point. However, by the time Helms addresses had come to pass, blacks had been waiting 80 years or more for the promise of true integration in the neighborhoods of which Helms speaks. What had they received in return for their forebearance? Separate drinking fountains, hotels and restaurants that refused their business, and a Senate that used the filibuster that former KKK recruiter Robert Byrd claimed as a keystone of the Republic to block anti-lynching legislation. The South had installed Jim Crow laws specifically designed to discriminate against blacks, and they had no intention of changing them.

Did the civil-rights movements have their excesses? Of course. Did the government go too far in establishing preferences to compensate for centuries of shameful oppression? Arguably, yes. But to write in 2005 that equality and brotherhood would have dropped from the sky like manna to the Israelis if the blacks in America only had a little more patience doesn't just amount to historical revisionism, it sounds like a fantasy world concocted by David Duke.

The civil rights movement didn't create the hatred, violence, suspicion and distrust; it did make them increasingly obvious to the nation as a whole, which found itself repulsed by it. Without people such as Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and others who dedicated their lives -- and sometimes sacrificed them -- to demonstrate the tremendous injustice of segregation and Jim Crow, that system would still be with us today. In a week where the body of teenager Emmett Till has been exhumed in an attempt to get justice for his family fifty years after he was lynched by locals after a supposed affront to their segregationist impulses, laying the violence off onto the victims of segregation is ghoulish and frankly unacceptable.

Helms may wax nostalgic for the pre-civil-rights days of the South. I'm certainly not about to wax nostalgic for the Helms era of the Senate. I can't wait for Jesse to get back to his retirement.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 9, 2005 7:34 AM

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» Applause from Daly Thoughts
I'm not feeling verbose today, so let me just say that Captain Ed speaks for me on this one. I agree with every word. [Read More]

Tracked on June 9, 2005 9:53 AM

» Book Versus Letter from Chapomatic
Ed Morrissey reminds me why I paid an extra year of North Carolina state taxes to vote against Jesse Helms. Now Helms will publish his memoirs, "Here's Where I Stand," intending on setting the record straight. He apologizes for his earlier remarks on ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 9, 2005 1:49 PM

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