Thursday, December 6, 2012
That line has been attributed to the late longtime U.S. senator for many years by many sources. John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, says it is "a fabrication."
I included the reference in a column last Sunday opposing the idea of naming a federal courthouse in Raleigh after Helms. Dodd called and emailed me to say the quote "has zero basis in reality." Dodd says he can find no evidence that Helms ever said or wrote it.
"It's one more in a long, false list of made-up 'quotes,' out of context half-truths and deliberate mischaracterizations that have entertained the Senator's enemies over the years," Dodd wrote.
Many sources that have cited the quote over the years attribute it to an editorial or editorials Helms delivered on WRAL-TV in Raleigh, where he opined on-air in the 1960s. WRAL included the reference in its obituary of Helms, which has been on its website for more than four years. Monday, the station removed the reference after Dodd complained.
The quote and its attribution to Helms has been around for decades. Among those who have included it in their reporting on Helms: CBS News, Newsweek, The Nation, syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, conservative commentator Michael Graham, the Observer (by many different reporters and columnists), Yahoo!, Mother Jones, the Florida Times-Union, the South Bend Tribune and countless blogs. Some citations say Helms "once called" UNC that. Others say Helms "repeatedly" or "frequently" used that moniker.
Some references cite Helms' on-air editorials. Others say the phrase emerged years earlier, in fliers circulated in the race-tinged 1950 U.S. Senate race between Willis Smith and Frank Porter Graham. Helms was Smith's publicity director.
For many long-time North Carolinians and Helms observers, the phrase, and Helms as its author, is something they've heard for as long as they can remember. But no one seems to be able to point to the original source material.
Did Helms say it? Or did someone make it up long ago and it took on a life of its own? At this point, we can't say, and more research is required. What is not in question: Helms repeatedly used race to divide his constituents and the country. His bigoted comments and actions inflamed racial tensions for decades, and he never apologized for that.
-- Taylor Batten
Posted by The Observer Editorial Board at 12:01 PM