A Jesse Helms Anecdote

Here's a good one:

I was a senior when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Roughly 2,000 of us joined a vigil on the quad for several days. The vigil was an instrument of our grieving and a voice for racial justice on Duke's campus. Higher wages and union recognition for the non-academic employees—cooks, food-servers, maids, and janitors, most of whom were black—became the focal issue. We sat peacefully and largely silent day and night, studying for finals, listening to Dr. King's speeches and singing "We Shall Overcome" every hour. To this day I count it as a major event in my spiritual formation.

Jesse Helms came on the television and said that all of the students sitting on the quad at Duke should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to "marry a Negro" (Duke students were practically all white in those days). Unless the student's parents approved of that prospect, Helms advised, he or she should go back to class. We all took the words as vindication for our cause.

Again, one could imagine a white supremacist television commentator changing his positions and apologizing for some of his past actions (I believe such puny liberals as George Wallace did this) and moving on. But Jesse Helms didn't do that. And George Bush, Mitch McConnell, National Review, and the Heritage Foundation admire him greatly.