Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, often portrayed as a racist and a sexist in the media, died this morning on the Fourth of July. He was 86.

“It’s just incredible that he would die on July 4, the same day of the Declaration of Independence and the same day that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, and he certainly is a patriot in the mould of those great men,” former North Carolina GOP Representative Bill Cobey, the chairman of The Jesse Helms Centre at Wingate University, told The Associated Press.

But that image of patriot wasn’t always what followed Helms’ career. A die hard conservative, the right-minded Republican was known for his often controversial views and conversation-stirring tactics.

Perhaps his most controversial stand was his argument against recognising Martin Luther King with a holiday.

“The legacy of Dr. King was really division, not love,” he said at the time, labelling King an “action-oriented Marxist,” according to Time magazine.

Later, in 1993, Helms took then President Bill Clinton to task for attempting to appoint an openly gay assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that,” he said in a newspaper interview at the time, according to the Associated Press. “If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”

Helms was often known for pushing AIDS funding to Africa, arguing it would better serve people there than Americans dying of the disease.

Helms had been plagued by health problems in later years. In 2006, his family announced he had been moved into a convalescent home.

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