High school student halts Holden's pardon

Posted March 24, 2011

It looks like a 17-year-old high school student is part of the reason for the delay of the Senate’s proposed pardon of former Gov. William Holden.

An email chain recently forwarded to @NCCapitol sheds a bit more light on this week’s delay of Senate Joint Resolution 256.

Holden, a Republican, was impeached by the Democratic-held legislature in 1871 for sending the state militia into Caswell and Alamance counties, where racial violence had been spurred by the Ku Klux Klan. He was only the second U.S. governor to be impeached and the first to be removed from office.

Monday night, Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, received an email from Sterling Carter, a historian on the board of the Caswell County Historical Association. Carter protested that the resolution “contains false facts that put Caswell County to shame.”

According to Carter, Holden suspended habeas corpus for Caswell’s citizens, “hired a band of illegal renegades to pull off the rebellion” and “never truly convicted anyone of being a member in the Ku Klux Klan.”

“If you allow this resolution to pass without voicing the truth,” Carter warned Gunn, “you will condemn Caswell’s history on the state level and put us all to shame and glorify Governor Holden, making rights truly wrongs.”  Sen. Gunn on Holden Pardon Sen. Gunn on Holden pardon

Gunn forwarded Carter’s message to several fellow senators with the question, “Don’t we owe it to ourselves and all North Carolinians to confirm the facts associated with this Resolution prior to a vote?” 

Gunn confirmed the correspondence today, adding that it isn’t the only email or call he’s received from constituents who don’t agree with the pardon.

Who is Sterling Carter?

Carter, as it turns out, is a senior at Bartlett-Yancey High school in Yanceyville. He’s been the student representative on the historical association board since 2007, serving as a tour guide on weekends and researching the county’s history.

"I'm considered a historian in Caswell County," he explained.

Carter says he’s done extensive research into oral history, documents, and letters from the “Kirk-Holden War.” He says "it's a solid fact" that Holden hired soldiers out of Tennessee, not the state militia, to come into Caswell County in 1870 and oppress its citizens.

He knows historians don't agree with him, but adds, "I don't know if historians who are not from Caswell County have access to those letters and oral histories."

"Holden's impeachment proved justice to Caswell County," he said.

Still, he’s not completely opposed to the pardon.

"I'm not solidly against it. I don't see a solid wrong," he said. "I just think they need more evaluation and research. You should get your facts together before you put it to paper."


Caswell County Historical Association President Karen Oestreicher confirms Carter is speaking for the group on this issue. She too believes Holden’s actions against the county were illegal.

“From everything I’ve read,” she said, “I think it was a justifiable impeachment.”

“Our mission as a historical association is to preserve and promote the history of Caswell County, and the Kirk-Holden War is part of that history,” Oestreicher said. “Somebody getting a wild hair to pardon Gov. Holden – I don’t think it’s a good thing to go back in history and second-guess people who were involved in that history. I’m sure it wasn’t done lightly.”

Oestreicher doesn’t believe, as many historians do, that Holden’s impeachment was spurred by racial tension during Reconstruction.

“I think it was more, he had done a bad thing and continued to do unpopular things. I don’t think it was the Klan coming in and saying we’re going to impeach this guy,” she said. “I don’t think we should rewrite history to suit ourselves.”

Berger: Deja vu

Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, is one of the measure’s co-sponsors. He too sent an email about Holden to Gunn, following it up with a letter from noted North Carolina historian Bill Harris supporting the proposed pardon.

Berger says there’s really no debate among scholars that Holden’s impeachment was “a political trial that was racially motivated. I don’t think any reputable historian would disagree with that.”

Berger is still hopeful the pardon resolution might be brought back up for debate.

“If Sen. Gunn wants a hearing on the historical facts," Berger said, “we’ll give him a hearing. But it’ll be the Civil War being fought all over again.”


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  • r u crazy too Mar 31, 2011

    Personally, this is a big waste of time and money. The legislature should be spending its time on today's issue rather than something that happened 140 years ago. It happened, get over it. No apologies, no reparations, move on! This is not accomplishing any thing.

  • sk8terlife91 Mar 30, 2011

    AMEN!!! its in the past, leave it that way! there are more important issues to handle than to waist time on this "pardon". The man is gone, so is that culture.

  • yelton221 Mar 25, 2011

    Then we need to look at what Abe Lincoln did too. He did the same thing with habeas corpus. Abe also tried to get all blacks to a colony outside of the USA. So we all know that the blacks were put in charge after the civil war collecting tarrifs. We also know the Vance and Aycock really cause a mass killing of blacks in Wilmington. Frankly put the blacks were used as political pawns first by the southern democrats, then the northern industrialists republicans and finally put back on the plantation by the democrats. Our high dollar education system has failed us. Yes we can revisit the civil war and will find that everyone played everyone else. I agree with Berger. Pass the darn thing. If the deal with habeas corpus stops the bill then what we gonna do about Vance and Aycock and Lincoln. A lot of wrongs were done then and we are still suffering from the hangover. Study and learn that the school books lied.