Precedent Arguing for a Pardon of NC Gov. William Woods Holden, who was Impeached, Convicted and Removed from Office in 1871 for Taking a Stand against the KKK

by johndavis, March 23, 2011

[audio:|titles=Audio Mar 23] “In Caswell County, the Klan trapped Republican State Sen. John W. Stephens in the county courthouse and cut his throat and stabbed him in the heart. At the time Stephens was collecting evidence of Klan activity for the governor.” News & Observer, March 15, 2011, story by Rob Christensen, Author of The

[audio:|titles=Audio Mar 23]

“In Caswell County, the Klan trapped Republican State Sen. John W. Stephens in the county courthouse and cut his throat and stabbed him in the heart. At the time Stephens was collecting evidence of Klan activity for the governor.”

News & Observer, March 15, 2011, story by Rob Christensen,

Author of The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics

NOTE: In a departure from the usual content of my report, this is a statement about the importance of today’s consideration by the NC Senate of the pardon of Gov. W.W. Holden.

Precedent for State Atonement – Pope John Paul II Admits that the Roman Catholic Church Erred in Condemning Galileo 359 Years Ago

On October 31, 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged in a speech before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that the Roman Catholic Church had wrongfully condemned Galileo 359 years earlier for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

In order to keep from being burned at the stake, Galileo (1564-1642), the father of modern science, recanted his scientific findings and spent the remainder of his life under house arrest.

In North Carolina, a mere 140 years ago, the state Senate convicted Governor W.W. Holden on six impeachment charges related to his efforts to quell violence by the Ku Klux Klan in Alamance and Caswell counties.  He was the first governor in American history to be impeached, convicted and removed from office.  The Senate is considering a pardon.

They cut the Senator’s throat and stabbed him in the heart

In a March 15 News & Observer story, political writer Rob Christensen notes that the violent acts committed by the Klan included arson, lynching and political assassination … including the assassination of a white Republican sheriff and state Senator.  “Two Klan murders were particularly high profile,” writes Christensen.  “The Klan hanged Wyatt Outlaw, the leader of the black Republicans in Alamance County, in the town square of Graham.  In Caswell County, the Klan trapped Republican state Sen. John W. Stephens in the county courthouse and cut his throat and stabbed him in the heart. At the time Stephens was collecting evidence of Klan activity for the governor. Twenty-one other people, black and white, in Caswell County were whipped.”

Under Holden’s orders, the state militia took control of the Alamance and Caswell county courthouses and arrested more than 100 accused Klan members.  The six charges leading to his impeachment, conviction and removal from office resulted from these actions.

The bill seeking to pardon Gov. Holden is cosponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Wake County Republican, and Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat.  Three of North Carolina's former governors, Democrat Jim Hunt and Republicans Jim Martin and Jim Holshouser, have written legislative leaders in support of the pardon.

Precedent for Acts of State Atonement

In the late 1990s, I was researching the political implications of the coming of a new millennium.  Although ultimately the longest period of economic expansion in US history drove the politics of the millennium era, I did discover an unusual phenomenon: worldwide acts of atonement.

Throughout the final decade of the last millennium, countries throughout the world sought to begin the new millennium with a clean slate by admitting to their past wrongs.  The acknowledgment by Pope John Paul II that the Roman Catholic Church had wrongfully condemned Galileo 359 years earlier for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun is an example of what I found.  Here are a few others:

  • Jan 19, 1998 - Ottawa apologized for its role in running aboriginal residential schools, which have become notorious for the sexual and physical abuse inflicted upon native children. The long-awaited apology brought back painful memories among Canada’s 1.3 million aboriginals.
  • December 29, 1998 – Two top Khmer Rouge leaders issued the first public apology for their role in the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians during the “killing fields” of the 1970s.  Khmer Rouge, a Maoist revolutionary, enslaved Cambodians in labor camps where one in five starved to death, died from disease, or were executed.
  • February, 1993 – French President Mitterrand announced the establishment of a National Remembrance Day “… in memory of the anti-Semitic acts of persecution …” committed by the government of France during WWII.  This is the first time a French head of state has officially recognized the government’s role in the Jewish holocaust.
  • January, 1995 – On the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, German Catholic bishops issued a statement admitting that Catholic Christians should share responsibility for the evils of the Holocaust.  The bishops stated that during the era of Hitler’s Third Reich, “… Christians did not carry out the required resistance to racist anti-Semitism.”
  • March 13, 1999 - “With profound pain and humbleness we ask for forgiveness …” began the statement of apology from the leader of Guatemala’s former leftist rebel army.  The apology was for the excessive abuses committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.  An estimated 150,000 Guatemalans were killed.
  • On June 9, 1995, Japan’s House of Representatives expressed condolences and remorse in a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific.  “On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, this House offers its sincere condolences to those who fell in action and victims of wars and similar actions all over the world.  Solemnly reflecting upon many instances of colonial rule and acts of aggression in the modern history of the world, and recognizing that Japan carried out those acts in the past, inflicting pain and suffering upon the peoples of other countries, especially in Asia, the Members of this House express a sense of deep remorse.”
  • October 8, 1998 – In a written apology, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi apologized to the South Korean people for 35 years of brutal colonial rule. In his statement expressing remorse, Obuchi extended “… a heartfelt apology to the people of South Korea, having humbly accepted the historical fact that Japan inflicted heavy damage and pain on the people of South Korea through its colonial rule.”
  • August, 1993 - Pope John Paul II apologized for the support of the enslavement of Africans during the 17th and 18th centuries by the Roman Catholic Church  “The immensity of their suffering corresponds to the enormity of the crime committed against them,” said Pope John Paul II.
  • August, 1993 – Russian President Boris Yeltsin laid a wreath of flowers at a commemoration site to apologize for the massacre of 15,000 Polish army officers by Soviet forces in Katyn Forest during World War II.
  • June 1995 – On their 150th anniversary, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nations largest Protestant denomination, publicly apologized for its history of racial bigotry. “We apologize to all African Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
  • Nov 4, 1995 – Queen Elizabeth II, apologized for injustices committed during the era of British Imperialism in New Zealand against the Maoris, the native inhabitants.
  • June 12, 1998 – In a letter signed by President Clinton, the United States formally apologized to the approximately 2,200 people of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from Latin American countries and interned in the United States during World War II.  “We understand that our nation’s actions were rooted in racial prejudice and wartime hysteria, and we must learn from the past and dedicate ourselves as a nation to renewing and strengthening equality, justice and freedom,” Clinton wrote.

Along Abbots Creek in Davidson County, it gets real personal

Atoning for wrongs committed against each other and seeking forgiveness is one of the most wrenchingly difficult acts in the human experience, whether for individuals or families or states or nations.  However, the importance of atonement has been recognized for thousands of years.

Jews have celebrated Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, for 3,400 years.  Atonement is the most important principal of Christianity, with emphasis given to the importance of personal atonement during the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday.

Nevertheless, atonement remains difficult because it forces us to admit that we made those mistakes; that our families made mistakes as repugnant as any in history.

Last summer, I attended the Miller family reunion in Lexington.  My mother’s mother was a Miller whose ancestors go back to when Gorg Miller bought land and settled along Abbots Creek in 1752.  One of the outings was a visit to a family graveyard a half-hour walk into a dense forest ... a graveyard so old that the last person buried there was in 1890.

We finally found the graveyard in a thicket, three dozen or so grave stones and monuments surrounded by an ornamental iron fence.  The slaves were buried outside the fence with no markers.  The most imposing monument was that of Civil War Captain John Miller.

Although I do deeply regret the mistakes my family members made in thinking that slavery was justifiable, I do not have any bitter feelings towards those who owned slaves and fought for the confederates. However, I do feel compelled to find ways that I can atone for their mistakes … like supporting the pardon of Governor Holden.

By pardoning Governor Holden, we are not merely looking back to atone for mistakes made 140 years ago, we are looking forward to ensure that our children and their children and generations 140 years from now do not impeach, convict and remove a governor from office for taking a stand against the likes of the Ku Klux Klan.

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