WASHINGTON — The way Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun relates the story, Sen. Jesse Helms entered the Senate elevator, saw her, and began singing, "I wish I was in the land of cotton. . . . "
Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, recalled his brief encounter with the Senate's only black member differently and described it as "a good-natured exchange," an aide said.
Moseley-Braun, a Democrat from Illinois, told the story at the National Urban League annual dinner Wednesday night, about two weeks after another tangle with Helms in which she defeated his move to renew a patent on the Confederate flag insignia.
The incident happened Tuesday, she said. When Helms stepped into the elevator, "he saw me standing there, and he started to sing, 'I wish I was in the land of cotton . . . ' And he looked at Sen. Hatch and said, 'I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries.'
"And I looked at him and said, 'Sen. Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang 'Rock of Ages,' " Moseley-Braun said.
Her press secretary, Lynnette Moten, who attended the dinner and heard the speech, confirmed a Washington Post account of the speech. "She relayed a story," Moten said. "It displays something about her, something about him and it speaks for itself."
Helms' press aide Eric Lundgren said, "I'm not sure that report's entirely correct," referring to Moseley-Braun's recollection of the exchange. But Lundgren would not say specifically how Helms' recollection differed.
Last month, Moseley-Braun successfully led a fight on the Senate floor to defeat an amendment by Helms to renew the United Daughters of the Confederacy's patent on the Confederate flag insignia.