Even so, I can't make myself like Helms.
In fact, when I think about him, I remember a bumper sticker my grandparents used to have for out of state trips that read, "I'm from North Carolina, but I don't support Jesse Helms." In many ways, it sums up my feelings.
I don't merely disagree with his policies, I feel ashamed that he represents my state.
Throughout his long political career, he has unabashedly opposed gays, protesters, welfare programs, atheism, "liberalism" and anything else that hasn't fit into his very limited, fundamentalist viewpoint.
Most disturbingly, he's proven an unwavering racist. In 1983, he initiated a filibuster against a bill making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. He's kept black judges off the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He's also consistently made comments clearly showing that he considers blacks inferior to whites.
In 1963, Helms said, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that has thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic and commerce and interfere with other men's rights."
Furthermore, Helms used racism to win his Senate campaigns against Jim Hunt and Harvey Gantt. Helms' race against Gantt included a television ad in which a pair of white hands balls up a rejection letter while a voice says, "You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota."
In the 1950 senatorial primaries, he helped organize Willis Smith's vicious and racist campaign against Frank Porter Graham, criticizing Graham's opposition to segregation and playing upon the racial fears of the time.
For me, these examples transform Helms into a monster. Many recent editorials and news pieces characterizing Helms' career have cited such examples and drawn similar conclusions. The stories are true, and as far as I'm concerned, he deserves what's said of him. But, in terms of understanding North Carolinians and their history or even accurately assessing Helms, such analysis oversimplify his career and impede progress.