Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dix Hill & Jesse Helms, Zombie

I grew up in Rawleigh. When I lived there, "Dix Hill" was a shorthand for "crazy." That's because over on the southwest side of Raleigh, not so far from the massive institution that is North Carolina Central Prison, was a grand state institution for the mentally ill called "Dix Hill," after the rise on which it was located and the activist who argued, in the 1880s, for the need of such institutions. ("Dorothea Lynde Dix was an American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who, through a vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress, created the first generation of American mental asylums", Wikipedia.) I think the real name for the place was something like The Dorothea Dix Institution for the Mentally Ill or some such. It was so big today's Republican Party could probably all fit inside, with some room to spare for a smattering of Libertarians.

As you probably know, big state mental institutions are phasing out. This is probably in some measure a tragedy, and in some measure a blessing. If you want a sense of how things were in such places, watch "Suddenly Last Summer." It was filmed in a real institution. Anyways, these days the mentally ill remain with us, but are scattered about, and in Rawleigh there's this big parcel of valuable real estate which has been sitting there, pretty much empty, for some decades.

Our fine retiring Governor, Beverly Perdue, offered a plan for the property--suggesting that it be used to consolidate a good number of state offices, with perhaps other bits being ceded to N.C. State University, which also resides fairly close by. Real estate being, well--REAL--and this piece being, well, IN Rawleigh and all, seems pretty sensible. But not, of course, to North Carolina's own Koch Brother, Mr. Art Pope, owner and operator of an entity called with the usual misleading nomenclature of the Right (see, e.g., "Right to Life," and "Right to Work"), Americans for Prosperity. Mr. Pope's spokesman says this is a big money grab by the "Rawleigh elites." And since we just elected Mr. Pat "Frack You" McCrory as our new Republican Governor, who color coordinates nicely with our Republican Legislature, most likely Ms. Perdue's sensible plan will be quashed, and the value of this property will either continue to be frozen in amber while the physical institution continues to crumble, as empty institutions and properties do. Or, just possibly, private real estate entities will end up slicing and dicing a big chunk of what amounts to raw urban land into more of your basic cityscape--subdivisions, malls, whatever. And of course money will certainly be made, including possibly some new money for Mr. Pope, who knows?

Meanwhile, deep in the heart of downtown Rawleigh, the first federal building constructed in the South after the end of the Civil War, is going to be renamed "The Jesse Helms Federal Courthouse," if our congress person Renee Elmers has her darn way about it. The irony is rather palpable, given that Mr. Helms spent his life battling progress on all fronts, and was an early advocate of the destruction of the Federal Government now pretty much espoused by the entire Republican Party. Odd, then, that he ends up with a Federal Courthouse Building. But on the other hand, it's a poke in the eye of all minority North Carolina citizens and any other folks who stand with them--a kind of more subtle Confederate Flag in the state flag deal favored by some of our blighted sisters to the south.

At any event, Mr. Helms lives on, thanks to Ms Elmers. Makes me feel a little like I'm in a boat riding backwards down the river to the rapids, while up on the receding bank, the rest of the country managed to avert the disaster that a Republican Presidential victory would have entailed. As you know, I like to take pictures, but there's one I didn't manage to snap. This was back in '63. I was sitting on a bench on the old state capitol grounds, on a bright December afternoon, when around the sidewalk bend comes a Klan Rally in full regalia sans burning crosses or actual lynched "nigras."

[Old N.C. Capitol Building, sans Klan march--but I think that's a Confederate soldier statue]

It was sure a sight. I can see it as clearly now as if it were happening. If I had a photo, though, I could post it on here for you to see too. Kennedy had just been assassinated, not a month earlier, and Jesse Helms was on WRAL-TV, every night, snarling about the communists in Chapel Hill, Martin Luther King,Jr., and Joan Baez. He was of course working for one Rawleigh elite, the Fletchers, who owned WRAL (still do). Perhaps Mr. Pope didn't get the message. For that matter, Mr. Pope is himself a "Rawleigh elite." I guess this is yet another example of Orwell-speak on Pope's part--when he says "elite," he means people who need parks (another feature of Perdue's Dix Hill plan: some urban park land), and "our" government.

After the election the other week, someone threw a brick through the Democratic Headquarters building in downtown Siler City. I saw yesterday they've put the glass back in, and reposted their sign. Seems like it's always going to be a close call here in North Carolina.

Update: there's a petition to Congress asking that this building not be named after North Carolina's most famous racist, jingoist, male-chauvinist deceased Senator. Might be a good idea to sign it before it's too late. It can be found at:

Wednesday Update: Good news!. On the Dix Hill front, the few remaining reasonable state leaders adopted Gov. Perdue's plan yesterday in a Council of State meeting. Republicans of course voted no and vow to mess things up once Frack You McCrory comes into power in January, '13. We'll see I guess. Here's the story:

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