Monday, July 07, 2008

Obama, Helms and symbols

The crowd that came to hear Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Monday filed into a Charlotte middle school past an American flag flying at half-mast.

The flag was lowered to commemorate Friday's death of North Carolina's longtime U.S. senator, Jesse Helms.

Though plane trouble force Obama to cancel, the irony of the first black presidential nominee scheduling a visit to Helms' home state on the eve of his funeral wasn't lost.

"Sen. Helms represented ... views and perspectives that were wrong-minded, that represented the last century," Jennifer Roberts, chair of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, told the crowd. "We are moving from a politics of division to a politics of unity and the future."

After days of retrospectives about Helms, the Washington Post today re-ran a column that political columnist David Broder wrote about the senator on the occasion of his 2001 retirement announcement.


Anonymous said...

Classy comment there, Ms. Roberts.

Anonymous said...

At least we have only 24 hours of flags at half mast to remind us of Helm's legacy of racial hatred.

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw Mecklenburg--that is, the part of Germany known as Mecklenburg for which Mecklenburg County, Va., and Mecklenburg County, N.C., were named when these counties were established in 1761 and 1762, respectively, by the colonial legislatures of Virginia and North Carolina, was on an automobile trip from Berlin to Hamburg in early 1975.

We couldn't stop to have a tour of German Mecklenburg because it was then part of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), or GDR (German Democratic Republic), the formal German and English names for East Germany, which was under Soviet control from the end of World War II to the 1990s. So while we were permitted to pass through Mecklenburg en route from Berlin to Hamburg, we were still required to continue traveling on the Autobahn until we had completed the drive from West Berlin to the border of the Bundesrepublik (Federal Republic, i.e., West Germany).

I had previously seen sections of East Germany on a train trip from Berlin to Warsaw in 1968 but of course on that journey as well we were obliged to stay on the train until we had reached our destination in Poland.

You could, however, get one-day visas in the former West Berlin for a day-trip to East Berlin with the proviso that you had to be back by midnight. Once, when I visited East Berlin for an afternoon, I carried along a violin which I had acquired in North Carolina but which had been made in Czechoslovakia. When passing through the East Berlin checkpoint at the end of the day to return to West Berlin, a female East German border guard politely asked me if I was improperly bringing back a violin from the East sector.

I replied that although it was a Czech-made violin, I had brought the instrument with me from the United States before I had even set foot in East Berlin. At that point she invited me to demonstrate that I actually played the instrument, whereupon I launched into an energetic rendition of "The Orange Blossom Special," which brought out an entire contingent of East German guards to enjoy the tune as they clapped, cheered and stomped their feet to the shuffle strokes of the classic bluegrass instrumental.

"Also, genug--genug!" (Okay, enough--enough!") the attractive East German official said with an embarrassed look as the other guards grinned at her and clamored for more. I pretended not to understand and kept playing for a few more bars, then finally broke off and put the fiddle back into the case.

It was a rare moment of "Shuffletown" joy, laughter and good will at an otherwise forboding official border station between East and West Berlin which had seen much sorrow and tragedy in its day.

Playing a bluegrass song on the fiddle for an audience of East German guards was only one small personal "call for liberty" that I could offer as an individual U.S. citizen visiting Berlin only as a tourist.

Thank goodness for Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Dresden, Leipzig and all those other East German places from the years of the "Iron Curtain" between Eastern and Western Europe, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina "kept the faith" with the people of West Berlin and West Germany until the day would come when Ronald Reagan, whose election to the presidency was made possible in part through Sen. Helms' personal support between 1976 and 1980, would issue his historic challenge: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

Even a loyal Jimmy Carter Democrat who would like to have seen "The Man From Plains" serve a second term in the White House could express heartfelt appreciation for Sen. Jesse Helms' determined and sustained effort to oppose Soviet domination of East Germany and Eastern Europe until we could all say in gratitude, paraphrasing the literary classic of an earlier time: All's quiet on the Eastern front.

Anonymous said...


Goodness, I had no idea that Mr. Helms was the lynch pin in the fall of communism.

By your line of thinking, he must also have been the lynch pin in the insane Iraq War and the untold deficits springing forth from the Bush administration?

Swooning over his imagined accomplishments for the white people of East Germany does nothing to diminish his legacy of racial oppression of black people here at home.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Roberts was off by 100 years -- Jesse represented the 19th century, not the 20th.

Anonymous said...

As for our individual rights and liberties and the principles of equality and justice under the law, you can decide if you want to take your chances having these protected by the relative lobbying strengths of your preferred interest groups and political coalitions or if you believe that individual rights, liberties and equality should be guaranteed to the people as individual citizens regardless of ethnic background under the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the land.

As for North Carolina's diverse ethnic heritages through its history and modern development, if someone wants to stir up ill will toward the German-Americans of the Carolina Piedmont and mountains, then let them just deal with their own prejudice on that score. Pennsylvania and Texas have honored the place of German-American communities in their respective state histories, and we've always done the same in the Carolinas, from the founding of Old Salem to the arrival of new citizens in the present day.

And the same goes for the Waldensians, the Irish and the Scots-Irish of the Piedmont and West, the Scottish Highlanders of Cape Fear, African-Americans from Warrenton to Biddleville, Hispanic Americans from north and south alike, the English-Americans from "Down East," Asian-Americans from east to west, and indeed the whole "rainbow" (Jesse Jackson) of cultural diversity from Frisco on the N.C. coast to San Francisco by the Golden Gate.

I'd much rather have a sound legal and constitutional system which can be applied equally to all citizens rather than a shifting set of ephemeral rules which vary according to where you came from.

Anonymous said...

David McKnight - Shut up and get a job and quit being so long-winded.

Gonna philibuster anymore for the old bigot?