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: Cheryl Creech

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