This is the grave of John Porter East.
Born in 1931 in Springfield, Illinois, East went to Earlham College, where he played offensive line on the football team. After he graduated, he went into the Mariners and was commissioned as a lieutenant. But like FDR, East was the rare person to contract polio as an adult, in his case, in 1955 while serving at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He would be wheelchair bound the rest of his lie. With a military career gone, East went to law school at the University of Illinois and successfully passed the bar. But he only lasted as a lawyer for a year in Florida, when he decided to go graduate school in political science at the University of Florida, where he received a Ph.D.
East moved to North Carolina to take a job in the Political Science department at East Carolina University. There, he became friends with a lovely man named Jesse Helms. Sharing the same Republican background and right-wing racist politics, Helms urged East to run for office. He was the Republican nominee for a special election for Congress in 1966, but lost that race to Walter Jones, who would remain in that seat for the next 25 years. East remained active in the conservative movement over the next 15 years and then ran for Senate in 1980 against the incumbent Democrat Robert Morgan. He had been involved in the return of the Canal Zone to Panama. And demagoguing that issue, plus riding the Reagan coattails put East over the top. It’s hard to imagine a stupider issue, or at least it would have been before 2016.
While in the Senate, East emerged as perhaps the most right-wing voice on abortion. He and Helms also led the fight against the creation of a federal holiday for Martin Luther King, which drew the support of John McCain, in another mavericky appearance form the kind of all mavericks.
And then in 1986, he committed suicide after deciding not to run for a second term. Evidently, he left no note and it’s unclear why he did it, although he was having health problems.
I found this a remarkable post to write, because for a senator from the very recent past, I was unable to dig up much of any information about him in addition to what is above. I can’t believe that an awful friend of Jesse Helms has almost nothing written on him, even if he was only in the Senate for a few years. But he’s almost totally erased from the past. Here’s some attempts at being a conservative intellectual that are complied about various thinkers. And that’s about it, even going into Google Books and JSTOR. Maybe I could search further, but obviously I’m not going to for a series as silly as this one.
John Porter East is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington, Virginia. Although he’d probably rather have seen them in the Confederacy.
If you would like this series to cover other fine, fine North Carolina senators, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. The legendary Clyde Hoey is buried in Shelby, North Carolina and Cameron Morrison is in Charlotte. You know these would epically boring posts. Previous posts in this series are archived here.