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History will not absolve him.

Jesse Helms: Stories from our archives & most memorable quotes 

History will not absolve him

Since the death of Jesse Helms on July 4, political observers and fellow politicos have tread lightly in their remembrances of the former U.S. Senator, famous for his race-baiting, homophobia and vitriol toward the poor. Instead, we're reading milquetoast like "Senator Helms dedicated his life to serving the people of North Carolina," State Rep. Bob Etheridge told the Associated Press. Gov. Mike Easley also chimed in: "Whether you liked his politics or not, Jesse Helms was a national force able to deliver for North Carolinians."

Yes, he was able to deliver: Unless you were black, poor, gay—anything but white, Christian and conservative.

For an alternative viewpoint, read a selection of the Indy's coverage of the Helms regime, starting in 1983. —Lisa Sorg

Story PDFs

"Falwell, Helms preach Christ and the ballot" (July 8, 1983)

"Helms fuels hunger debate as food lines lengthen" (Sept. 2, 1983)

"Who gave Uncle Jesse the keys to the pantry?" (June 22, 1984)

"Dear Sen. Helms" (Aug. 31, 1984)

"What if Jesse chairs Foreign Relations?" (Nov. 23, 1984)

"My Day with Jesse Helms" (May 21, 1987)

"In Jesse's Image: The Making of a New Generation" (May 21, 1987)

"The World According to Helms" (Jan. 4, 1995)

Story links

"Old Times, Not Forgotten" (Aug. 29, 2001)
When Helms announced his decision not to seek re-election in 2002, Independent reporter Bob Geary discussed the "irrelevance" of the senator in an era when racism has become closeted.

"Moral Dilemma" (Feb. 27, 2002)
In February 2002, Helms told attendees at a religious conference in Washington that he'd been "too lax too long" in the fight against AIDS. "Many in North Carolina's frontline AIDS services community had the same thought: Hell's frozen over!" wrote reporter Barbara Solow. "What's worse," she asked, "the old, uncaring Jesse, or the new, falsely repentant Jesse?"

"Mr. Mouth" (Feb. 27, 2002)
Meanwhile, Bob Geary considered all the other positions Jesse might have repented—but didn't.

"Water's Edge" (May 22, 2002)
In May 2002, Independent columnist Melinda Ruley considered Helms' legacy as she watched his physical decline.

"Helms' World" (Sept. 18, 2002)
And that September, as Helms prepared to step down from 30 years of service in the Senate, Jon Elliston examined And the World Came His Way: Jesse Helms' Contributions to Freedom, a memoir published by the Jesse Helms Center, a nonprofit museum and conference center in Wingate that pays tribute to the senator.

"Whitewash" (Sept. 7, 2005)
In 2005, former state government reporter Barry Yeoman reviewed Helms' memoir Here's Where I Stand, calling it "a curious exercise in political whitewash."

Most memorable quotes

This PDF (1.9 MB) is excerpted from A Lot of Human Beings Have Been Born Bums: 20 Years of the Words of Senator No, published by the North Carolina Independent, copyright 1984; edited by Grace Nordhoff, research by Ruth Ziegler, illustrated by Michael Kuczynski, design by David Birkhead.

  • History will not absolve him.

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