Let Us Now Praise An Honorable Man

You may have heard that former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms died this week.  I woke up to a couple e-mails from people informing me of his death and I was shocked to learn he had been yet alive.  Indeed, as I said to my daughter, I thought he was born dead.  One of the finest descriptions of Helms I ever read was in one of Dave Barry’s yearly recaps, when our fine senator had done something thoroughly humiliating once again, and Barry described him thusly:  “Senator Jesse Helms (R–Hell).”

But this man, one L.F. Eason III, was fired from the only job he’s ever had, a 29-year veteran of the State Department of Agriculture, for refusing to lower the state and American flags to half-mast in honor of Helm’s senate service and death.  Eason did so for the following reason:

As reported in the News & Observer, “He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his ‘doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice’ and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.”  After much wrangling with his supervisor, who insisted on the state directive, Mr. Eason was told he could either have his staff lower the flags or retire.  Mr. Eason is only 51, but he chose to retire. 

Now as a Quaker there is little in this world that means less to me than a flag, or iconography of any kind.  I have no relationship to the country I live in represented by cloth or a pin or a snowglobe or a hand-painted cat.  (People paint cats, it’s very interesting.)  I wouldn’t have cared if Mr. Eason had lowered the flag, raised it, put twinkle lights on it, or set it on fire.  But instead he took the state at its word:  you say this symbol is of such grave importance you would ruin the life of a man who has given his adult life to his job, in the name of a man who was once quoted as calling the University of North Carolina “the University of Niggers and Communists.”  The list of Helms’s crimes against the good will have to be compiled by someone else, someone with the stomach and ink cartridges for it.  But the list of people who stood up to him, even in death, can add one more name, and I thank this man and I hold him and his family in the Light, for discerning what is true and acting on it to his own peril. 


Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 2:24 am  Comments (13)  


  1. How wonderful that this man’s stand made the news. I sometimes despair that folks ever act from their truest beliefs anymore. Fantastic that he took a stand and tremendous that we got to hear about it.

  2. Jamie, I had to read the article twice myself, just to make sure I understood what he really did. It’s the first time I’ve ever been proud to see the name ‘Jesse Helms’ and ‘North Carolina’ in the same paragraph. Bless Mr. Eason, whatever he does now.

  3. AMEN.

    That is all.

  4. Thank you for sharing Mr. Eason’s story. He’s in my thoughts today…

  5. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, as I’ve taken to avoiding the news altogether so I probably wouldn’t have heard this otherwise. God bless Mr Eason, and I’ll bet that with the closing of a window by his jacka$$ employers an even better door will be opened.

  6. I will quote my dear mother, Delonda, since she isn’t here (are you here, Mom? hello?), who would say that all acts of integrity that cost dearly only free us for better things. If I knew how to make that little TM sign I’d put it next to ‘free us for better things,’ as I’m certain she’s trademarked it by now. She’s right about most everything.

    And the more I think about this incident, the more I believe there is an element of the sacred vs. the profane at work. Lowering the flag for the death of Bobby Kennedy and for Martin Luther King was seen as a nearly sacramental gesture; to do the same for Jesse Helms would be an act of profanity. I’m projecting, of course, but it feels so to me.

  7. L.F. Eason III thanks for being a principled man. I wish your employers were as principled. I do hope you are now freed.

    “free us for better things” ™ 🙂

  8. Michael T., do you think it’s too late to convince my mom to have that tattooed somewhere on her person? She could add her other absolutely fixed pieces of wisdom, like ‘never stick anything up your nose.’ There are others, some ESSENTIAL to good living.

  9. Haven,
    The appeal for your mom would be graduating from just holding up fingers that correspond to a specific “fixed piece of wisdom”.
    It worked for my mom. Now she just raises her forearms (fists closed) and they are all right there.
    Well not all of them but the ESSENTIAL ones are.

    hold alt and press 0153 for the TM sign.
    It is sad I know that 🙂

  10. Michael, it is fabulous that you know that! I have come to realize I know absolutely nothing. I shall think of it as an evolutionary state, rather than brain damage (Melinda). Delonda used a finger-based number system for years. #4, don’t smoke — this proclaimed as my dad puffed away at three packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes every day. #1, Ain’t No Free Lunch. #3, the business with sticking things up the nose. #5, don’t give advice to God. Hey! I just realized it worked what she did, because I have never once in my LIFE tried to advise a deity. Thank you, Mama!

  11. Haven I thought #4 was
    “Is this the hill you are going to die on”

    Oh well my mistake.

    P.S. Your dad smoked like mine in quanity and with that arms crossed posture sometimes. In this day and age the child protective services would have been knocking our door down due to all the second hand smoke pouring out.

  12. I heard about his story on NPR… As a native Tarheel, but long in exile, I too felt obliged to acknowledge Jesse’s passing.


  13. Thanks for the post

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