You can tell a lot about a millionaire by how he spreads his money around. In the case of Louis DeJoy — the GOP megadonor now threatening the integrity of the 2020 election as Postmaster General by slowing deliveries and destroying mail-sorting equipment in swing states — he’s offered consistent financial support for the Jesse Helms Center, honoring the late North Carolina senator who was a militant homophobe and crusaded against civil and voting rights, once declaring: “If you want to call me a bigot, go ahead.”
DeJoy’s philanthropic affinity for the noxious Helms calls into question his moral authority to lead the Postal Service, which boasts one of the most diverse workforces in America. The NAACP announced on August 20th that it is suing DeJoy in federal court, calling his “sabotage” of the Postal Service a “blatant” effort to disenfranchise voters of color, who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. “Voters should not have to choose between their health and their constitutional rights,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson tells Rolling Stone.
DeJoy was born in Brooklyn and you can still hear the New York in his accent. But from the early 1980s, he ran his logistics business out of North Carolina, the state Helms served in the Senate. DeJoy is married to Adona Wos, a Polish-born diplomat who served as North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human services. The couple make their home in Greensboro.
The DeJoy/Wos Family foundation touts support for the Jesse Helms Center prominently on its website, as an example of its dedication to “public policy.” It describes the Helms Center as promoting the “nation’s founding principles that Jesse Helms advanced throughout his career as a five-term U.S. Senator.” The Helms Center’s mission, as described by DeJoy/Wos, is to advance “free enterprise and traditional American values.” According to IRS filings, the DeJoy/Wos foundation gave at least $16,000 to the Helms Center between 2016 and 2018; the foundation was a “gold sponsor” of the Helms Center’s 30th anniversary.
So what are the “traditional” values championed by Helms? To put it bluntly: white supremacy and bigotry toward gay Americans. Helms began his career as a conservative broadcaster. In that capacity in 1963, he warned black America of a likely wave of white violence in response to the civil rights protests. “The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that’s thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men’s rights,” Helms said. Helms was a dogged opponent of the Civil Rights Act, which he called the “most far-reaching, dangerous piece of legislation I ever read.”
As a senator beginning in the 1970s, Helms insisted he’d been sent to Washington to vote “against forced busing of little schoolchildren.” He led a filibuster against extending enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and another trying to block the adoption of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, railing against “Dr. King’s action-oriented Marxism,” which Helms insisted was, “not compatible with the concepts of this country.”
Helms hated gay Americans with a virulence rare even for his era. He once argued that “the government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.” In a 1990 campaign speech, he inveighed against Gay Pride parades, describing “Homosexuals and lesbians, disgusting people marching in our streets demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other.” In 1993, Helms opposed the nomination of a well-qualified civil rights lawyer to a housing post in the Clinton administration because of her LGBTQ activism. “She’s not your garden-variety lesbian,” Helms said. “She’s a militant-activist-mean lesbian, working her whole career to advance the homosexual agenda.”
Helms may have died in 2008, but his legislative legacy still haunts global political life. The Helms Amendment prohibits U.S. foreign aid from supporting family-planning services that include abortion.
So what does DeJoy’s funding of the Helms Center support? The center, in part, attempts to rehabilitate Helms for a modern audience. Its website purports to debunk what it calls “fictional facts” (reader: they are actual facts) about Helms, including:
- Jesse Helms opposed civil rights.
- Jesse Helms called the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a “University of Negroes and Communists.”
- Senator Helms’ “Hands Ad” against Harvey Gantt purposefully used racist appeal.
- Senator Helms sang “Dixie” in an elevator to Senator Carol Moseley Braun hoping it would make her cry.
Rolling Stone reached out to DeJoy, seeking an explanation of his support for the Helms Center. The phone at the DeJoy/Wos foundation went unanswered and the voicemail box was full. USPS did not respond to a request to interview DeJoy on this subject.
In the world of 2020 — where Helms’ name is being stripped from university buildings in North Carolina — supporting the Helms Center with your private charity is the upper-class version of putting a Confederate flag bumper sticker on your pickup. “Anyone who understands the history of Jesse Helms, perhaps one of the most racist U.S. senators in recent history, should have pause with DeJoy’s support of his center,” says the NAACP’s Johnson.
“Jesse Helms was a devout segregationist; he did not recant his views of African Americans,” Johnson says. “To support that legacy raises a lot of questions around DeJoy’s moral compass as he presides over a federal agency that has long been celebrated for its tremendous diversity.”
The Post Office has prominently honored the contributions of LGBTQ Americans with stamps depicting Harvey Milk, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin. Nearly 40 percent of USPS workers are minorities, and more than 20 percent are black. “The U.S. Postal Service, very similar to our Armed Forces, has for decades been a place where African Americans and others could have a fair opportunity to be fully employed on an equal basis,” Johnson says. DeJoy has “a lack of respect and appreciation for the role that the United States Postal Service plays in our society.”