Timeline

October 18, 1921: Jesse Helms, Jr. is born in Monroe, North Carolina to Jesse Helms, Sr. and Ethel Mae Helms. Helms, one of three children, lives in Monroe until 1939.

1930: In the midst of the Great Depression, Jesse Helms helps his family make ends meet by sweeping the floors at the local newspaper. This job begins his lifelong love affair with newspapers and the media.

1938: After graduating from high school, Helms decides not to attend college as his family is unable to afford it. When the president of Wingate Junior College comes to the Helms home to recruit Jesse, Helms is unsure if he can attend. The president assures the family that money will not be a problem and Jesse attends Wingate for one year.

1939: Jesse moves to Raleigh and attends Wake Forest University. At the same time he works for the News and Observer in the sports department and leaves the university later in the year to take a full time job with the newspaper, where he meets Dorothy Coble, his future wife.

1942: As America is entering World War II, Helms moves from his position at the News and Observer to take a position as the associate city editor for the Raleigh Times. Helms, who suffered from an ear infection in his early adulthood, is judged unfit for combat duty. But in March of 1942, Helms enlists in the Navy and is sent to San Diego to attend Navy boot camp. On leave from boot camp in October, he marries Dorothy Coble in Raleigh. After finishing boot camp, Helms is assigned to North Carolina where he works as a recruiter throughout the war.

1945: As the war ends, Helms leaves the service and returns to the Raleigh Times as the city editor. It is also this year that Dorothy gives birth to their first daughter, Jane.

1948: Having managed a radio station in Roanoke Rapids for the last three years, Helms returns to Raleigh to become the news director for WRAL radio station. Helms covers the entire city as a reporter and is credited for being one of the first radio reporters to play clips of audio recorded in the field. A technique now referred to as "sound bites."

1949: Jesse and Dorothy Helms have their second daughter, Nancy.

1950: Dr. Frank Porter Graham beats Willis Smith in a controversial primary for U.S. Senate, but fails to garner the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid another election. While Smith attempts to decide whether to call for a runoff, Helms organizes a rally to demonstrate the city's support for Smith. The demonstration eventually convinces Smith to call for the runoff and the campaign that follows is one of the ugliest in North Carolina's history. Smith and his campaign attack Graham as a member of communist societies and play upon the worst race fears of white voters. Smith wins the election and Helms, one year later, joins him in Washington.

1951: Helms goes to Washington to be the administrative assistant to Senator Willis Smith.

1953: Senator Willis Smith dies in office and is replaced by Alton Lennon. Helms leaves Washington and returns to Raleigh where he becomes the executive director of the North Carolina Bankers Association.

1957: Helms is elected to the Raleigh city council and serves until 1961.

1960: As the turbulent decade of the 1960s begins, Helms leaves his position with the North Carolina Bankers Association to join WRAL-TV as the executive vice president. It is at WRAL-TV that Helms begins to broadcast his controversial Viewpoint editorials. Over the next 12 years, Helms broadcasts more than 2,800 editorials taking conservative stances on issues like forced integration and race relations.

1962: The Helms family adopts a nine-year old child, Charles, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

1970: As the United States sinks deeper into the Vietnam conflict, Helms switches political parties. Up until this point, despite his conservative views, Helms has been a registered Democrat.

1972: For the first time, a Republican is elected to the U.S. Senate when Jesse Helms, Jr. defeats Democrat Nick Galifanakis. After the election, Helms creates the Congressional Club to help raise funds to pay off his campaign debts.

1973: Senator Helms becomes the first Senator to publicly support Ronald Reagan in his bid to become president. Although Reagan does not win the nomination, Helms' support never wanes and helps propel Reagan to the White House in 1980 and 1984.

1976: On the behest of Senator Helms, the Congressional Club, now a conservative fundraising powerhouse, helps deliver North Carolina's primary to Ronald Reagan.

1980: During Ronald Reagan's first successful presidential campaign, Senator Helms is pushed by his staff and supporters to seek the vice presidential nomination. But Senator Helms withdraws, stating that he has no aspirations to be president or vice president.

1984: In a bitter election battle, Senator Helms wins re-election to the U.S. Senate by defeating Democratic nominee Jim Hunt. At the time, it is the most expensive Senate race on record.

1990: Harvey Gantt, the first African-American student to attend Clemson, challenges Jesse Helms for election to the U.S. Senate. Helms wins re-election in a campaign that critics charge was dominated by racial scare tactics.

1995: In one of his many showdowns in the Senate, Senator Helms holds up a number of ambassadorial assignments in an attempt to institute sweeping changes in the State Department.

1996: Continuing the standoff with Cuba, the Helms-Burton Act is signed into law by President Clinton. One section of the Helms-Burton Act, written in part by Senator Helms, bars anyone who has expropriated former American citizens' property in Cuba from entering the United States. The Helms-Burton Act raises ire amongst a variety of U.S. allies including the European Union and Mexico. 1996 is also the year in which Helms defeats Harvey Gantt again and wins re-election to the Senate for a fifth consecutive term.

1998: On the strength of the Starr Report detailing the adulterous relationship of President Clinton with Monica Lewinsky and his later perjury, Senator Helms votes to convict President Clinton on all charges. The impeachment fails in the Senate when several liberal Republicans defect and vote with the Democrats to acquit the president on all charges.]

2000: Helms becomes the first legislator from any country to address the U.N. Security Council.   He pushes U.N. reform and warns delegates that their creeping “anti-Americanism” could force the U.S. into eventual withdrawal if its interests are not served by their “investment” in that body.

2001: Helms loses the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee when Democrats regain control of the Senate; Helms meets with U2 lead singer and activist Bono to discuss AIDS relief funding and third world debt; Helms announces he will not run for a sixth Senate term in 2002.

2002 Helms says at a conference organized by Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, that he is ashamed he has not done more concerning the world's AIDS pandemic.  The next month, he proposes an emergency appropriation of $500 million to add to the $850 million in global AIDS funds already contained in the 2003 federal budget proposal; In June, Jesse Helms attends a U2 concert in Washington, commenting afterward that “people were moving back and forth like corn in the breeze.”

2003 Helms retires when his term expires in January.  He is succeeded by Republican Elizabeth Dole.

2005 Helms publishes his memoir, entitled Here's Where I Stand; Helms makes a video appeal for AIDS relief funding on World AIDS Day, December 1.

July 4, 2008: Jesse Helms dies at age 86 at the Mayview Convalescent Center in Raleigh, N.C.