He attended public school in Mississippi and Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1950 and received a B.A. degree in political science from Roosevelt University in 1954. He received an M.A. from Northwestern University in 1956 and his Ph.D. in 1961. He served in the Korean War from 1955 to 1957.
Holden taught political science at the University of Illinois, Wayne State University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He was a professor of Political Science/Public Policy Administration at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1969 to 1981. He joined the University of Virginia faculty in 1981 and became the Henry L. and Grace M. Doherty Professor Emeritus of Politics.
He served on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission from 1975 to 1977 and on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 1977 to 1981. He has published numerous articles. He retired in 2002.
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2001
L. H. D. (Hon,), Virginia Theological Seminary, 2000
St. Clair Drake Lecturer, Roosevelt University, 1999
Elected to Omicron Delta Kappa, University of Virginia, 1995
Otto Wirth Award, Roosevelt University Alumni Association, 1988
Phi Beta Kappa, University of Virginia, 1986
L.L.D. (Hon.), Tuskegee University, 1985
President, American Political Science Association, 1989