Fact or Fiction?
During his career, Senator Helms was frequently attacked for his conservative views with some philosophical opponents going so far to malign the Senator’s intended policy position. Below, you’ll find some false positions touted by those who opposed Senator Helms and his policies and the real truth on those issues.
Fiction: Senator Helms’ 1990 campaign TV ad known as “Hands” was an appeal to racism and was used frequently throughout the campaign.
Fact: The Senate failed, by one vote, to override President Bush’s veto of legislation to require employers to hire and promote a percentage of their employees because of their minority status. Senator Helms opposed the bill the first time the Senate considered it and was not in favor of the veto override. In a speech Mr. Gantt gave shortly after that vote, he stated that he strongly supported the legislation and had he been in the Senate, it would have become law.
To help voters understand the practical reality of the law Mr. Gantt favored, the Helms campaign staff created an ad explaining how it would work: People who were fully qualified for jobs could be passed over so that jobs could be filled by an individual who satisfied other criteria having nothing to do with the requirements of the job. The point was that Mr. Gantt was comfortable with government policies requiring employers to hire and promote for the purpose of filling quotas instead of recognizing individual abilities.
By the time the ad made it to television, there were less than two weeks left in the campaign. There were accusations that this was a planned last-minute attack, but of course that simply was not true since the vote and Mr. Gantt’s comments had happened just a few days earlier.
The ad was intended to point out this difference: Senator Helms believed every person is entitled to go as far as he or she can by making the most of every talent and every opportunity and know the satisfaction of personal success. Based on the evidence, it appeared that Mr. Gantt had less confidence in the ability of individual citizens to handle challenges without excess government involvement. In a 2005 interview with reporter Jim Morrill, Helms had this to say about the race issue, “The truth is the truth whether people choose to accept it or not. Let me be very clear. From my earliest days I was taught to respect all people. It is just that simple. I didn’t need to shift my position because it was always on the side my parents expected me to take and modeled by their example. I never took the time to argue with the nonsense claims that I was a racist because I knew the truth and more importantly every African-American with whom I had ever enjoyed a friendship or who worked with me in any capacity knew the truth, too. The well-known ‘hands’ ad . . . had nothing to do with race and everything to do with a quota bill that I opposed and Mr. Gantt said he would support if he was elected. That bill was just plain wrong and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that quotas like those proposed in the bill are unconstitutional. This particular bill was not only unfair to job applicants, it was also unfair to employers who would have been forced to somehow prove that they had no intention of hiring anyone but the best qualified applicant.”
Fiction: Senator Helms statement, “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.”
Fact: The statement was run without the joke that preceded it. The following in an excerpt from an interview with the magazine Law and Order:
“When Senator Jesse Helms talked with a reporter from the Raleigh News and Observer and mentioned Bill Clinton’s unpopularity on military bases in the state, he illustrated his point with an anecdote about a Southern sheriff who had just been defeated in an election. ‘He had this big fella with him, about 6 foot 7and 270 pounds,’ said Helms. ‘Somebody asked, ‘Who’s that?’ The sheriff answered. Any body who can’t get more votes than I did better have a bodyguard.’ Helms then added: ‘Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard.’ The News and Observer ran just the Clinton reference without the entire joke that preceded it, and the Associated Press picked up the story. Soon the media were reporting that the Secret Service was investigating Helms’ comments, and the editorial page of the New York Times called for Helms to step aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
Fiction: Helms is racist and has opposed the progress of African-Americans.
Fact: From his childhood Senator Helms was taught to respect all people and to understand that all Americans had as their birthright life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In his earliest correspondence, Jesse Helms rejected the doctrine of white supremacy and as manager of WRAL-TV he hired both minorities and women in responsible positions, even proposing to set up a department at WRAL for the sole purpose of training minority candidates for significant career opportunities. As a US Senator he was known and appreciated by the Capitol workforce for his genuine friendship and interest in them. Individuals like James Meredith and Claude Allen have recounted their staff experiences with Senator Helms many times. In fact, Senator Helms was responsible for the hiring of Claude Allen in 1985 as the first African-American to serve on the Republican or Democratic professional staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The archives of WRAL editorials from the 1960s include Jesse Helms’ high praise for African-Americans such as Rev. Leon Sullivan, Asa Spaulding and others whose leadership demonstrated that dreams matched by diligence could offer any American a better future. These editorials make clear the Senator’s respect for those who wanted to better their lives through their own labors and his frustration over those who preferred the free ride of government handouts. That frustration had nothing to do with color and everything to do with a failure to appreciate all that America had to offer anyone who was willing to pursue their goal. An editorial praising the way in which a young architecture student by the name of Harvey Gantt integrated Clemson University illustrates Jesse Helms’ support of progress that was genuine and sustainable.
Upon the Senator’s retirement Walter Russell Mead wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion section: “… If Mr. Helms can be seen as one of the great conservative figures of American history, …. he also deserves to be remembered as one of a handful of men who brought white Southern conservatives into a new era of race relations.
This was not my initial impression of Mr. Helms, when as a young boy in North Carolina during the civil rights movement I listened to his anti-integration, anti-Martin Luther King commentaries on WRAL-TV. But once the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s was enacted, Mr. Helms–along with some of his erstwhile segregationist colleagues like South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond–did something very revolutionary for Southern white populists. He accepted the laws and obeyed them…This is not how Southern politicians responded in the 1870s and 1880s…Even as the passions of the civil-rights movement were at their height, Messrs. Helms and Thurmond (whose father was Ben Tillman’s lawyer) shunned violence. Without ever losing their credentials as hard-core defenders of Southern values, they hired African-American staffers and gave African-Americans the same level of constituency service they gave whites. Even their opposition to affirmative action is based on their claim that these principles violate what ought to be a color-blind stance on the part of the government…He disciplined and tamed the segregationist South even as he represented it to a hostile nation. We are all better off because he managed this difficult high-wire act.”
Fiction: Helms was on the staff of the 1950 Willis Smith campaign for Senate and the staff was responsible for inflammatory campaign flyers.
Fact: Jesse Helms was a newsman on WRAL radio and was never employed by the Smith campaign or a part of its operations. Neither Jesse Helms nor the Smith for Senate campaign ever had a part in producing the inflammatory materials that were circulated during that time. Unregulated and unmonitored small groups and individuals who were strongly opposed to Senator Graham did produce such materials. Willis Smith made it abundantly clear to his own staff that he would leave the campaign if any of them were ever to be involved in that sort of campaign. Sources – Hoover Adams, member of the Smith for Senate staff and political historian Dr. Jonathan Gentry*.
*Source: The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. LXXXII, Published January 2005 All That’s Not Fit to Print: Anti-Communist and White Supremacist Campaign Literature in the 1952 North Carolina Democratic Senate Primary by Jonathan Gentry
Fiction: Senator Helms was a “homophobe.”
Fact: An honest review of the facts of Senator Helms’ record reveals the falseness of this label.
Senator Helms had no fear of homosexual individuals. He believed that laws against physical violence should protect all members of our society and should be enforced justly by those who serve in law enforcement and the justice system. He believed that brutality was no less egregious when victims were members of any particular segment of our society; it was always wrong and should not be tolerated.
As a matter of personal faith, Senator Helms did not believe that God intended men or women to adopt a homosexual lifestyle. His views were entirely compatible with the tenants of the Manhattan Declaration and shared by a majority of Americans, as indicated by the support for laws reserving marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
Senator Helms was known and respected by all who recognized his concern for people. He was known for his kindness and personal efforts to help those in distress. How telling that those who choose to portray him as something he never was exhibit no more conscience in repeating lies about him after his death than they did in expressing their hatred of him, defacing his home, insulting his staff or invading his offices when he was alive.
His detractors persist in their vilification even though it was Senator Helms who worked most tirelessly to protect the very principles of freedom that homosexuals are denied in many other nations, including the seven Muslim nations where they would be subject to the death penalty simply because of their presumed sexual orientation.