So long, Jesse
Yesterday Jesse Helms died. You remember him, he was a North Carolina senator for like 30 years. You can read about him in all over the net.
When I first moved to Charlotte in the summer of 1990 Harvey Gantt, a black man and former mayor of Charlotte, was running against Jesse Helms for the senate. I'd heard of Jesse before I moved here and Gantt was guaranteed my vote.
One day after work I went to a nice bar in south Charlotte to listen to some jazz and have a drink. I got into a conversation with a native Charlottean. He was in his late forties or early fifties and had one of those wonderful Charlotte accents that are slowly disappearing in this town. The race for the senate was getting pretty heated and naturally it entered our conversation. He asked me, "Who are you voting for?" I answered immediately, "Harvey Gantt." His face went to stone and his eyes turned real unfriendly and he got made, real mad. He leaned close and said in a low angry voice, "You mean you want to give all your money to the niggers?" I swear to god that is verbatim and it ended our conversation. I don't remember saying anything. I just turned away from him.
I was too shocked to say a word. I had just spent four years in the Marines and had experienced my share of racial tension and harmony. Often in the same ten minutes. I had never heard such blatant racism before. I remember my step dad had used that word in my presence during my high school years but, as someone who lived in northern Michigan his whole life, it was an uninformed racism. I don't recall him being like that once he moved here and lived and worked in a big integrated city as opposed to the lily white north. But this guy, in this fancy bar in Charlotte with a nice jazz band, blew me away. The raw hatred of blacks and me, because I was going to happily for vote a black man, showed me that I was in the South. I didn't realize I was actually in The South until that day. You can bet your ass I voted that fall and voted for Harvey Gantt.
I wonder where that guy is right now? Does he remember the 22 year old Yankee he scared the piss out of in the summer of 1990? If he does and he reads this he can go blow himself. Screw him and Jesse Helms.