@NCCapitol

Helms' legacy debated amid push to name Raleigh building for him

Posted December 6, 2012
Updated May 10, 2013

— Longtime U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms is one of the best-known figures in North Carolina politics. He's also one of the most divisive, and a push to rename a Raleigh federal building after him has reignited the debate over his legacy.

Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers introduced a resolution in the U.S. House last month to name the Century Post Office on Fayetteville Street the "Jesse Helms Federal Building and United States Courthouse."

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr introduced similar legislation in the Senate this week.

Helms had his local office in the building for most of his five terms in the Senate. The conservative icon died in 2008 at age 86.

Tim Winslow said he likes the idea of naming a building for Helms.

"I was young man in the Navy and I needed help and I wrote him, and he helped me out," Winslow said. "He took good care of his people."

Stuart Turner, on the other hand, said he cannot believe anyone's even considering the move.

"You've got to be kidding me," Turner said when he learned of the effort.

Any politician can be controversial, North Carolina State University political science professor Steven Greene says, but Helms stands out for his fights against women's rights, gay rights, disability rights, labor rights and especially civil rights.

"To a lot of America, the name 'Jesse Helms' just means racist, and I don't think that's a very good image we want to put out for the rest of the country," Greene said.

An online petition against the bills launched by left-leaning political group Progress North Carolina has already obtained 4,000 signatures.

Century Post Office in Raleigh Helms debate pits service to NC against divisive politics

"A lot of people don't agree with what he stood for. A lot of people are very upset about what he stood for," said Justin Guillory, a spokesman for the group.

North Carolina has changed dramatically since Helms' day, Guillory said.

"We can't just whitewash history. He stood for a lot of mean and hurtful things to a lot of people, and that's not the kind of thing we need on a public building," he said.

No vote has been set on either bill, but Burr said that Helms' service to the state should be recognized.

“Jesse Helms was a transformative figure in our state’s history who placed service to his constituents above all other priorities in his public life," he said in a statement. "Whether they agreed with him on political issues or not, North Carolinians had a dedicated advocate in Washington in Jesse Helms, and this bill will help to commemorate his legacy and his service to our state.”

The National Park Service says the building was the first federal government project in the South after the Civil War. The Federal Building, as it's called in the National Registry of Historic Places, was completed in 1878.

It houses Raleigh's office for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, as well as a post office. The building was renamed the "Century Post Office" in 1978 to celebrate its 100-year milestone.

109 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oldest First
View all
  • workinghuman33 Dec 7, 4:19 p.m.

    westernwake1"

    Sorry, but they are "renaming" the bridge for Larry Wilson. Key word there "renaming" and Wilson was never charged with anything. He was a fundraiser...I think that's a little different than a seated Senator for 30 years that was openly verbal with his opinions on inequality for women, African-American, and homosexuals. Besides Wilson was never indicted it was Poole that was convicted for tax evasion. So you want to fault Wilson by association? Helms openly and consistently insulted women, black people and gay people with no shame. I heard the things he said openly, there are television and radio recording of his vile opinions. I am not accusing Helms of these things they are facts. Not so much for Wilson.

  • westernwake1 Dec 7, 3:44 p.m.

    "Yeah... the state is too busy naming bridges for people who were part of a fund raising conspiracy that led to multiple indictments. westernwake1"

    'Yes, but that "conspiracy" didn't come out until after that fact.' - workinghuman33

    Huh... Bev Purdue is naming the bridge for a fund raising conspirator in the Easley scandal THIS WEEK. The conspiracy has been known for years. Larry Wilson was a major fundraiser for Gov. Mike Easley. 'He resigned in 2010 as federal prosecutors were about to release a 51-count indictment against Ruffin Poole, a former aide to Easley. Poole served a one year federal sentence for tax evasion.'

    It is not like the bridge was named for Larry Wilson years ago... and the conspiracy only came out this week.

  • workinghuman33 Dec 7, 3:21 p.m.

    that jesse helms was anti black is a lie that racist blacks have spread to the weak minded people to believe. it's very obvivous very few readers here have a clue who jesse was......
    wildpig777"

    If you aren't a tobacco cropper, or unless you have been living under a rock for 40 years, or ya'll aint from around here then you don't know anything about Jesse Helms with your statement. Helms was openly against women's equality, he was openly against African-Americans having equality, and he was most certainly a homophobic...he openly stated that he felt HIV/AIDS was Gods punishment for the homosexuals. "Anti-Black" how quaint...it's called racism.

  • Bill Brasky Dec 7, 2:54 p.m.

    "No, that is not what they said. They said a "large segment" of the population, not most of the population. That is a BIG difference. Yes, there are still a LOT of people that still feel that way unfortunately."

    A large segment could mean a majority, and enough to overturn a law. I would hope a very small segment, if zero, of NC's population would favor repeal of Civil Rights laws. We are talking about equality of the races here.

    Either way I feel that above statement was quite ridiculous.

  • issymayake Dec 7, 2:27 p.m.

    "Not that I like Byrd either, but at least he left the Klan and denounced his former membership. He was a product of his times, who changed and denounced his former views. Jesse Helms never denounced his racist past." - issymayake

    Yet so many of Byrd's votes were in lock-step with Helms. I guess the moral of the story is if you are a Democrat then the liberals with forgive all and plaster your name across every possible building and highway. However if you are a Republican with the exact same views then you will be treated as a pariah and not have your name on a single building. I get it now.
    westernwake1

    #1 It really doesn't have to be a eye for an eye thing. Democrats/Republican I don't give a care, Jesse Helms was a divisive man and shouldn't have his name on a federal building.

    #2 I don't live in West Virginia, so I don't care what they do. I was born in and live in North Carolina.

  • jacksun48 Dec 7, 2:10 p.m.

    Jessie Helms was good to his white constituents because it was self serving behavior that helped get him re-elected every six years. The man was not someone I would want in my family tree.

  • wildpig777 Dec 7, 2:03 p.m.

    that jesse helms was anti black is a lie that racist blacks have spread to the weak minded people to believe. it's very obvivous very few readers here have a clue who jesse was......

  • SMAPAEA Dec 7, 1:55 p.m.

    I saw a comment about Senator Bryd from WV. He may have been a KKK member, but as he aged, he was good to the Arts, something Mr.Helms never was. Terry Sanford was the Senator from NC that helped my dad when Helms would not. Why not name after him...Terry Sanford

  • btneast Dec 7, 1:54 p.m.

    One person on this threat even went so far as to say that most North Carolinians are still against Civil Rights.

    ...No, that is not what they said. They said a "large segment" of the population, not most of the population. That is a BIG difference. Yes, there are still a LOT of people that still feel that way unfortunately.

  • superman Dec 7, 1:54 p.m.

    I remember reading when I was in high school "The evil that men do lives after them and the good is enterred in their bones" So be it with Helms--the evil that he did is still fresh in our minds and remembered.

More...