Top 12 Racist Politicians of Modern History
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1. Jesse Helms, Unabashed Racist
Jesse Helms was the last unabashed racist politician in this country. His ascension to Congress was largely due to his willingness to pick at the scab of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans. There have likely been many racists after him, but he was the last to stake his political career on it.
Back in 1984, a reporter summed up Helms' Senate campaign. "Racial epithets and standing in school doors are no longer fashionable," the reporter wrote, “but 1984 proved that the ugly politics of race are alive and well. Helms is their master."
Helms launched a filibuster blocking a bill that would make Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday. Helms' campaign literature warned repeatedly about black voter registration drives. On election eve he accused his opponent of being supported by "homosexuals, the labor union bosses and the crooks."
In 1990, in an election against African American Harvey Gantt, Helms aired an ad, "You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota."
2. Jim 'Raghead' Knotts
For this example, we don’t have to reach back too far. In the 2010 South Carolina Republican primary, Knotts calls his political rival Nikki Haley and President Obama ragheads.
"We've already got a raghead in the White House, we don't need another raghead in the governor's mansion,” Knotts said. He later apologized for the slur, saying he made it in jest. Haley won that primary.
3. Robert Byrd, Pre-Transformation
Shortly after his death earlier this year, the late Robert Byrd’s personal story was told as one of great transformation. He did, later in life, become a champion of civil rights. However, during the early part of his career, he was a unabashed bigot and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Byrd was a Democrat.
“I am a former Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan in Raleigh County and the adjoining counties of the state ... The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia,” Byrd said.
In eulogizing Byrd, former President Bill Clinton made this explanation of Byrd's history with the KKK:
He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected. And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that’s what a good person does. There are no perfect people. There are certainly no perfect politicians.
4. John McCain, No Friend To Asians
During the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John McCain told a group of reporters on his campaign bus, "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live."
"Gook" is a derogatory term used against Asians. Although McCain later said he was referring specifically to his prison guards and not all Asians, many Asian Americans took offense. McCain refused to apologize. Despite the gooks remark, McCain was still considered a serious candidate in that election. And ironically, he was not soundly defeated by Bush until the Bush campaign leveled their own race-baiting at him, claiming his adopted daughter was actually the love child of an adulterous affair he had with a black woman.
5. James L. Hart, Tennessee, Believer In Eugenics