There was a small brouhaha in Raleigh this week when Bruce Lightner penned a note asking the city to not name it’s new courthouse after former N.C. senator Jesse Helms. This letter, coming from the son of Raleigh’s first African-American mayor, was rebuffed by the conservative voices on the Wake County Board of Commissioners, several of whom are seeking higher office.
We knew to expect strange things from Paul Coble and Tony Gurley when they had to satiate a bizarre Republican electorate highly focused on non-issues in the state. But Coble speaks with a familial interest when he defends Helms, who was his uncle. Helms, a man sometimes lionized by North Carolinians as an emblem of all of which this state is capable, still holds high political sway in the Piedmont. But Helms, a man who opposed voting rights, integration and finally civil rights in 1964, and never meant a social program he didn’t like, represented a dying voice from the past, an exclusionism, segregation and callousness that has no place in a state like ours. This was the man leading the charge that HIV as a public health problem could be traced back to sodomy.
Not that Lightner has a lot of space to speak right now; he owes the city too much money for a party he threw. But Helms voice still speaks. Coble continues that tradition now, speaking out to support Amendment One, and constitutionally enshrining discrimination against a group of people. Let us be aware of the message these men preach, and remind them that a compassionate and charitable populace demands equality for all.