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A scary ghost story

RALEIGH — Whoever thought that a ghost or two would take up residence in the Legislative Building?

The building isn’t that old. Builders finished work on the baffling maze of a structure in 1963.

So who would ever think that it would come to be haunted in 2011?

But it’s happened.

Some apparition said “boo,” and legislators — more precisely, Republican senators — began running and hiding, proving once again that a politician’s most consistent trait is fearfulness.

The identity of one of the ghosts is certain. It’s that of impeached Reconstruction-era Gov. William Holden. Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, conjured up Holden when he introduced a resolution to posthumously pardon him.

The resolution reads, in part, that Holden “dispatched the state militia to Alamance and Caswell counties to stop the violence being caused by the Ku Klux Klan” and that his “steadfast resistance to the Klan led to his being impeached and removed from office.”

Of course, history is usually more complicated than legislative resolutions.

Holden sent the state militia to those counties in the summer of 1870 after the Klan strangled and stabbed a white state senator, lynched a black councilman from the town of Graham and embarked on a general reign of terror. The governor also suspended habeas corpus, declared martial law and arrested about 100 people.

The militia that restored the peace was headed by a former Union colonel, a fact that didn’t improve the governor’s standing with the locals.

A few months later, Republicans lost control of the General Assembly. By March of 1871, Holden had been impeached and removed from office.

And so ended a bitter episode of North Carolina history.

And then began a bizarre one, 140 years later.

Senators prepared to undo that act of their predecessors of 1871 only to discover a handout on their desks calling Holden a “scalawag.” It quoted two historians referring to his administration as corrupt and incompetent. Even worse, he was in cahoots with “notorious carpetbaggers.”

The handout sparked an investigation. Who had put it there? It’s against Senate rules to place unsigned handouts on senators’ desks. A camera in the chamber was apparently down, showed nothing.

Another ghost?

Must have been. It sure scared some senators.

First they delayed a vote on the resolution. Then they sent it back to committee. Asked by one of the co-sponsors, Democratic Sen. Dan Blue, if the legislation was being sent there to die, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca acknowledged that was a possibility.

Boo! Such scurrying over a governor dead now for 119 years.

The apparition that produced the handout never sent out a whisper that the Jim Crow-era historians cited were apologists for Southern secession. It never howled about how the 1871 Senate prosecutor argued for conviction based largely on the claim that there was no insurrection.

Now the haunts are out. William Holden is haunting the place.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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