Proposed pardon of former governor reopens old wounds

Posted March 24, 2011

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— Some lawmakers are trying to heal what they call a black eye in North Carolina's history by pardoning a former governor who was impeached during the Reconstruction for taking a stand against racial violence.

But some residents in Caswell County have raised questions about Holden's actions, blocking the pardon.

Gov. William Holden was impeached 140 years ago this week. His supporters say the Ku Klux Klan adopted terrorist tactics in Alamance and Caswell counties, killing people at will, and they say Holden sent in troops to quell the violence.

"He was impeached for no good reason other than the fact that he fought the Klan and he advocated equality for recently freed slaves," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake.

Blue is one of three senators sponsoring legislation to pardon Holden.

"I said, 'Who could possibly be opposed to this?'" said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake. "I thought it was something that needed to be done."

Shortly before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the resolution on Tuesday, an anonymous letter was found on senators' desks. It described Holden as an arrogant demagogue and scalawag.

"It certainly did maybe throw a little fuel on the fire," Hunt said.

The resolution, now suddenly controversial, stopped in its tracks. After moving the vote to Wednesday, the proposal was pulled off the floor and sent to the Rules Committee, and it's unclear whether it will ever come up for a vote.

The eight cameras inside the Senate chamber didn't record video of who put the letters there because of a technical problem, and officials are investigating the incident.

"Our sergeant-at-arms is top notch – a former FBI agent and Navy Seal – and he's all over this. So, it's being worked actively," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

holden Proposed pardon of former governor reopens old wounds

Republican Sen. Rick Gunn, who represents Alamance and Caswell counties, has heard a different opinion of Holden, and he asked that the Senate double-check the history surrounding Holden before voting on the resolution.

"I feel like it's very important we make decisions here in the General Assembly based on all the facts and all the knowledge," Gunn said.

A Bartlett-Yancey High School student emailed Gunn with information about Holden, claiming that the governor held many residents of the county captive inside the county courthouse and that he "hired a band of illegal renegade soldiers" to patrol the area.

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

Carter, 17, is a board member of the Caswell County Historical Association, and he said he has researched documents and oral histories from the era. The resolution “contains false facts that put Caswell County to shame” and needs to be reworked before lawmakers vote on it, he said.

"They need more evaluation and research. You should get your facts together before you put it to paper," he said.

Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said other North Carolina historians stand behind the proposed pardon as written.

Blue said he is concerned the facts surrounding Holden are being distorted.

"If they're in agreement and sympathize with that, then that's a sign that they sympathize with the Klan activities and the disparate treatment of 140 years ago," he said.


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  • shawnwilliams159 Mar 25, 2011

    Dear NC Senate, this is the year 2011 not 1871. NC and the Nation is in a Economic crisis. Crime is rampant, people are out of work and the Nation is involved in three Wars. Can we get with the program here? Maybe Mr. Blue would be better suited to resigning his position and working on a Time Machine to take him and the other Members that are concerned over this back to 1871.

  • ifcdirector Mar 25, 2011

    Holden was a scalawag, a traitor, and so corrupt that Raleigh Republicans asked President Grant not to reappoint him as the Postmaster of Raleigh. Not Democrats. Holden illegally imprisoned a U.S. Marshal and his forces fired into a church killing a 14 year old girl since he gave them carte blanche to victimize the citizens of the state. It's interesting that it was not a state judge who released Holden's prisoners without charge but rather a FEDERAL judge. Holden actually got FAR less than he deserved which in my opinion was at the very least a lengthy jail sentence if not a rope. He was a corrupt and vicious tyrant as well as a proven traitor of the highest order.

  • babedan Mar 25, 2011

    Kristen168, to pardon the man is a slap in the face to all of those who lived during that time period. It matters not what you think, what you think was right or wrong, if what happened in the past meets with your approval or not. This action isn't going to do anything. You are hearing what others want you to hear, not what necessarily really happened. And as for restoring his name, he is dead, you can't give back anything that he could really car about today.

    Also, I ask you this question, what makes you think what happened was an egregious wrong. Did you live back then? NO, Do you take your values from those back then? NO, You don't have a clue what happened or why. So don't waste my tax dollars on riff raft. I don't see this man's descendents asking that he be pardon. Just politications who need an avenue to make money. And I'm a Republican and this was brought up by on and it's a waste of time and money.

  • 6079 SMITH W Mar 25, 2011

    Man, this is gittin' complicated.....The republican governor from 140 years ago who would have been a democrat today was impeached by democrats who would have been republicans today is being denied a pardon today by present-day republicans who would have been democrats 140 years ago. ;)

  • shawnwilliams159 Mar 25, 2011

    His fate was decided 140 years ago by the Citizens of NC and the NC Senate based on fact. You can't change History. Maybe in another 140 years the NC Senate will Vote to impeach these Politicians that wasted NC taxpayer money on this nonsense while ignoring the current economical crisis NC is in 2011.

  • Kristen168 Mar 25, 2011

    babedan: Why is this an important issue? I'm incredulous at the casual flipping off egregious past wrongs like it matters not. This brave man and descendants deserve his reputation be restored.

    As late as 1970, Klan activity was still great. I was in a bar in Wilmington (where there were much nicer acting people than there are now in them, at least to outward appearances). My girlfriend and I had just met a visiting basketball team and were having casual conversation with them, and I'd just turned to a black guy to say something and all of a sudden an enraged white guy jumps from a table pointing a gun at us yelling and cursing about a white women, black guy being together. We dhave dates with these men, didn't go in with them, had just been chatting a few minutes. Other whites pulled the guy down by the collar, which gave us and the basketball team the momentum to run out the door. This man may very well have pulled the trigger and one or more would be dead now. So what... yo

  • redspringssean Mar 25, 2011

    "Andy Dufresne: How can you be so obtuse?
    Warden Samuel Norton: What? What did you call me?
    Andy Dufresne: Obtuse. Is it deliberate?
    Warden Samuel Norton: Son, you're forgetting yourself.
    Andy Dufresne: The country club will have his old time cards. Records, W-2s with his name on them. Sir, if I ever get out, I'd never mention what happens here. I'd be just as indictable as you for laundering that money."

    Oh this is not the blog to discuss the relevance of the Shawshank Redemption to NC politics. My bad.

  • workingforthosethatwont Mar 25, 2011

    they're wasting our money everyday, spending it on what THEY think is best for you and me. How about a vote to stop wasting our money? vote them all out!

  • TheDude abides... Mar 25, 2011

    This guy was a definite "Republican" of his day..

    Radical Liberal? ... check
    Imposed Social Justice/Retribution? ... check
    Supported expanding govt control over citizenry? ... check

  • whatelseisnew Mar 25, 2011

    "Are our values better today than they were 140 years ago? NO, NO, NO"

    Depends. In some areas they are better. So far as discrimination, so long as the Federal Government chooses to discriminate against Whites, nope that value has not been improved.