The Jesse Helms Center reports that former United States Senator Jesse Helms died at 1:15 a.m. this morning in Raleigh. Further details on funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.  He was 86.

From the New York Times:

Former Sen. Jesse Helms, who built a career along the fault lines of racial politics and battled liberals, Communists and the occasional fellow Republican during 30 conservative years in Congress, died on the Fourth of July.

Helms left quite a legacy as he worked to demonize anyone slightly to the left of Mussolini. Among other things, Helms opposed civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, foreign aid and modern art.  Helms led the Senatorial opposition to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1983. He rarely made a speech in the United States Senate without somehow managing to mention homosexuality, and was particularly vitriolic when speaking of blacks, gays and lesbians, blaming them for “the proliferation of AIDS,” and stating that he disliked using the word “gay” to refer to them since, “…there’s nothing gay about them.”

Jesse liked to sing, once serenading Senator Carol Mosely Braun:

Soon after the Senate vote on the Confederate flag insignia, Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) ran into Mosely-Braun in a Capitol elevator. Helms turned to his friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), and said, “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.” He then proceeded to sing the song about the good life during slavery to Mosely-Braun (Gannett News Service, 9/2/93; Time, 8/16/93).

More on his legacy of racism:

Helms’ impeccable racist credentials include calling the University of North Carolina (UNC) the “University of Negroes and Communists.” (Charleston Gazette, 9/15/95)

At the 1993 GATT conference in Geneva, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D.-S.C.) commented on the African delegates attending the conference: “Rather than eating each other, they just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva.” (Washington Post, 2/5/94)

Hollings reportedly referred to blacks as “darkies” in a 1986 interview, and has called supporters of Sen. Alan Cranston “wetbacks,” called the Rainbow Coalition the “Blackbo Coalition,” and called Sen. Howard Metzenbaum “the senator from B’Nai B’rith.”

On Don Imus’ radio show (4/4/95), Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) mocked O.J. Simpson judge Lance Ito, calling him “Little Judge Ito” and speaking in a mock-Japanese accent that bore no resemblance to the native-born Ito’s speech.

In 1991, D’Amato commented on WABC radio (9/13/91) that New York’s African-American mayor, David Dinkins, should go to Africa “and stay there.” (Newsday, 9/16/91) In 1986, when D’Amato was asked about a low-income housing project in his state, he reportedly commented, “We didn’t do too well with the animal vote, did we? Isn’t it the animals who live in these projects? They’re not our people.” (New Republic, 3/10/86)

Praise has started coming in from Republicans, a party Helms dragged far, far to the right:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said few senators could match Helms’ reputation.

”Today we lost a Senator whose stature in Congress had few equals. Senator Jesse Helms was a leading voice and courageous champion for the many causes he believed in,” McConnell said in a statement.

No doubt a dark-skinned, smiling Jesus welcomed him with a hearty, “Shalom!” and a big, wet kiss.