Public Safety Remembers Two Leaders During Black History Month


One was spirited and outspoken, the other calm and quiet. Both men became leaders in their agencies after enduring the struggles of being among the first in their fields.

Talmadge “Pete” Barnett and Richard W. Holden worked during the turbulent civil rights era, and led the way for other minorities. At the end of their careers, Barnett was a regional commander of what was then the Division of Prisons, and Holden was the commander of the State Highway Patrol.

Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal doctrine in 1954, Barnett was hired as a rehabilitation counselor at Goldsboro Youth Center. At that time, a black person had to have a college degree to work for the prison system.

In a 1995 oral history, Barnett recalled how George Randall, the director of prisons supported him in decisions he had made such as not allowing inmates (headed to work at Cherry Hospital’s livestock farm) to ride in the back of a truck on a cold winter day without protection.

Barnett said, “I thought the Ku Klux Klan was going to visit me any night because that had never been done down there.”

When Barnett traveled to another prison and was denied use of the restroom, a call to Randall quickly resolved the issue. Barnett didn’t take his hat off in 

a dairy manager’s office and was reported for that. There were other discriminatory incidents and Barnett said, “You’ve got to know what wars to fight and what battles not to fight.”

Regardless of his “militancy,” as Barnett called it, he became assistant superintendent of the Goldsboro prison, then superintendent. He was promoted to larger prisons as superintendent, became an area administrator, and worked in Raleigh as an assistant director for prisons.

Richard Holden remembered that a recruiter for the State Highway Patrol tried to dissuade him from applying, but he applied anyway and was among the first black cadets in 1969 to enter the Highway Patrol’s Basic School.

Raymond Isley, later to become one of the first black majors of the State Highway Patrol, joined the next basic school and he served with Holden in Fayetteville, their first duty station. Isley said a lieutenant there made sure both men were treated fairly.

“That supervisor backed us to the hilt,” Isley said. “Most of the troopers supported us 100 percent. But on the outside, each of us was tested. We had to prove that we knew what we were doing.”

Most motorists had never seen a black officer and many resisted. Once in court, black troopers’ credibility was again questioned.

“It was a real challenge those first couple of years,” Isley said. “Over time those things passed and people came to respect what we were doing.”

Holden became the 21st commander of the State Highway Patrol in 1999 and retired in 2004.

“The courage and wisdom of Pete Barnett and Richard Holden led to expanded opportunities for future generations of North Carolinians,” Governor Pat McCrory said. “Today, their legacies are being fulfilled by many courageous men and women in law enforcement and criminal justice who, like Barnett and Holden, are devoting their professional lives to public service.”

Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry said that Barnett and Holden are two examples of those who worked in a raucous age of discrimination and stood strong.

“Today, our country leads the way on civil and human rights issues thanks to the many men and women, black and white, who saw the injustices and sought to correct them,” Perry said. “While bigotry still rears its ugly head, we must continue to work for the dignity of all mankind. We are grateful these two men helped lead the way.”

Barnett died Feb. 26, 2008, and Holden on Aug. 22, 2014.

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