Douglas Wilder Grandson of Slaves Becomes Governor

On this day in 1990 Douglas Wilder becomes the first-ever African American elected governor of a US state, and the first governor of color in the US since Reconstruction. Born to “gentle poverty” in Richmond, Virginia and the grandson of slaves, Wilder graduated from Virginia Union University and served in the United States Army during the Korean War. He established a legal practice in Richmond after graduating from the Howard University School of Law.

A member of the Democratic Party, Wilder won election to the Virginia Senate in 1969. He remained in that chamber until 1986, when he took office as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, becoming the first African American to hold statewide office. In 1989’s Virginia gubernatorial election, Wilder narrowly defeated Republican Marshall Coleman.

Wilder left the gubernatorial office in 1994, as the Virginia constitution prohibits governors from seeking re-election. Wilder returned to elective office in 2005, when he became the first directly-elected Mayor of Richmond. After leaving office in 2009, he has worked as an adjunct professor and founded the United States National Slavery Museum.

Most recently, in 2019, a 20-yer-old student assistant working under the now 88-year-old Wilder at Virginia Commonwealth University accused him of inappropriate touching and advances; this past October, a panel found Wilder was not responsible for non-consensual sexual contact.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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