Douglas Wilder

Douglas Wilder
Lawrence Douglas Wilder
66th Governor of Virginia
In office
January 14, 1990 – January 15, 1994
Lieutenant Don Beyer
Preceded by Gerald L. Baliles
Succeeded by George F. Allen
78th Mayor of Richmond
In office
January 2, 2005 – January 1, 2009
Preceded by Rudolph McCollum Jr.
Succeeded by Dwight Clinton Jones
35th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 18, 1986 – January 14, 1990
Governor Gerald L. Baliles
Preceded by Dick Davis
Succeeded by Don Beyer
Member of the Virginia Senate
In office
Personal details
Born January 17, 1931 (1931-01-17) (age 80)
Richmond, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Other political
Spouse(s) Eunice Montgomery (div.)
Residence Richmond, Virginia
Alma mater Virginia Union University
Howard University
Religion Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1951-1953
Rank Sergeant
Battles/wars Korean War
Awards Bronze Star Medal

Lawrence Douglas "Doug" Wilder (born January 17, 1931) is an American politician, the first African American to be elected as governor of Virginia, and the second to serve as governor of a U.S. state.[1] Wilder served as the 66th Governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994. When earlier elected as Lieutenant Governor, he was the first African American elected to statewide office in Virginia. His most recent political office was Mayor of Richmond, Virginia, which he held from 2005 to 2009.


Early life and career

Wilder was born in Richmond, the seventh of eight children of Robert and Beulah (Richards) Wilder.[citation needed] The grandson of American slaves, he was named after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.[2] He attended George Mason Elementary School and Armstrong High School, then racially segregated. He did his undergraduate work at Virginia Union University, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1951. Wilder is a prominent life member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

Wilder served in the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star for heroism at Pork Chop Hill. He rose to leadership in his first experience in an integrated organization, as President Truman had desegregated the military in 1948. After his service, Wilder earned a law degree at Howard University School of Law under the G.I. Bill. Virginia university law schools did not then admit African Americans. He graduated in 1959 and returned to Richmond to co-found the law firm of Wilder, Gregory, and Associates.

Marriage and family

On October 11, 1958, Wilder married Eunice Montgomery. They had three children together: Loren, Lynn, and Lawrence Douglas, Jr. They were divorced in 1978.

Political career

Douglas Wilder began his career in public office after winning a 1969 special election to the Senate of Virginia from a Richmond-area district. He was the first African American elected as state Senator in Virginia since Reconstruction. A 1970 redistricting gave Wilder a predominantly African-American district, and he was repeatedly re-elected into the 1980s. Although a liberal in a conservative legislature, he worked hard and gained influence through committee chairmanships when he gained seniority.[citation needed]

In 1985, still holding office in the state Senate, Wilder was narrowly elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia on a Democratic ticket under then-Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles. Baliles was also from Richmond. Wilder was the first African American to win a statewide election in Virginia. aware that he needed to reach the swath of the state's majority white electorate, Wilder had undertaken a two-month "back roads" campaign tour of the state, visiting Virginia's predominantly rural central and western regions and enhancing his name recognition across the state's demographic expanse.

Governor of Virginia

Wilder was elected governor on November 8, 1989, defeating Republican Marshall Coleman by a spread of less than half a percent. The narrow victory margin prompted a recount, which reaffirmed Wilder's election. He was sworn in on January 13, 1990 by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.. In recognition of his landmark achievement as the first African American elected governor in the nation, the NAACP awarded Wilder the Spingarn Medal for 1990.

Wilder had a comfortable lead in the last polls before the election. The unexpected closeness of the election may have been due to the Republicans' strong "get out the vote" efforts. Wilder had been candid about his "pro-choice" position in relation to abortion. Some observers believed the close election was due to what is known as the "Bradley effect"; they suggested that white voters were more likely to tell pollsters that they would support non-white candidates in given contests than to actually cast their votes for them.

During his tenure as governor, Wilder worked on crime and gun control initiatives. He also worked to fund Virginia's transportation initiatives, effectively lobbying Congress to reallocate highway monies to those states with the greatest needs.[3] Much residential and office development had taken place in Northern Virginia without the state's receiving sufficient federal money for infrastructure improvements to keep up. He also succeeded in passing state bond issues to support improving transportation. In May 1990 Wilder ordered state agencies and universities to divest themselves of any investments in South Africa because of its then policy of apartheid, making Virginia the first Southern state to take such action.

During his term, Wilder carried out Virginia's law on capital punishment: 14 executions by the electric chair, including the controversial case of Roger Keith Coleman.

During his term, Wilder had strained relations with United States Senator and former Governor Charles Robb that many papers described as a "feud."[4][5]

Wilder left office in 1994 because of Virginia's prohibition of successive gubernatorial terms. The next governor elected was Republican George Allen.


D.Wilder S.Senate poster.jpg

Since the 1970s Wilder has supported the death penalty. He generally ran on "anti-crime" platforms. In response to a waning budget balance due to state economic problems, Wilder supported some of the most dramatic cuts in the United States vin allocations for higher education.

In the mid-1990s Wilder was scrutinized for his attacks on fellow Democrat Chuck Robb and support of Republican Mark Earley. Wilder declared himself a candidate for President in 1992, but withdrew before primary season had ended. He briefly ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent in 1994.

Mayor of Richmond

On May 30, 2004, Wilder announced his intention to run for Mayor of Richmond. Until recently, the Richmond City Council chose the mayor from among its 9 members. The move to change this policy succeeded in November 2003 when voters approved a mayor-at-large referendum, with roughly 80 percent voting in favor of the measure. Wilder was a leading proponent of the mayor-at-large proposal.

On November 2, 2004, Wilder received 79% of the vote (55,319 votes) to become the first directly elected Mayor of Richmond in sixty years. Upon winning the election, Wilder communicated his intentions to take on corruption in the city government. He issued several ultimatums to the sitting City Council before he took office. He was sworn in on January 2, 2005.

He is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition,[6] a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The Coalition is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

On May 16, 2008 Wilder announced that he would not seek reelection to another four-year term as mayor.

Post-political career

Wilder has continued as an adjunct professor in public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. He writes occasional editorials for Virginia papers, and is still considered to be very influential in Virginia politics.

Douglas Wilder is the founder of the United States National Slavery Museum, a non-profit organization based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The museum has been fundraising and campaigning since 2001 to establish a national museum on slavery in America. In June 2008 L. Douglas Wilder requested that the museum be granted tax exempt status, which was denied.[7] From that time, taxes on the land had not been paid and the property was at risk of being sold at auction by the city of Fredericksburg.[8]

Beset by financial problems the museum has been assesed delinquent property taxes for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011 amounting to just over $215,000.[9] The organization filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on September 22, 2011. Early in 2011 Douglas Wilder was refusing to respond to or answer any questions from either news reporters or patrons who had donated artifacts.[10]

Honors and awards


Virginia State University named its Cooperative Extension Building the L. Douglas Wilder Building

  1. ^ The first African American governor in the U.S. state was P. B. S. Pinchback, who was not elected, but became Governor of Louisiana on December 9, 1872 upon the removal of his predecessor from office. Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, is the second African American to be elected governor, and became the third African American governor overall.
  2. ^ Virginia Historical Society
  3. ^ "Then & Now: Douglas Wilder", CNN, June 19, 2005; accessed 4 Mar 2009
  4. ^ "Wilder-Robb Feud Heats Up Over Tape". Los Angeles Times. June 10, 1991. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  5. ^ Ross, Michael (May 23, 1992). "Robb's Career in Peril as Feud With Wilder Heats Up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  6. ^ "Mayors Against Illegal Guns: Coalition Members". 
  7. ^ Gould, Pamela, "Slavery museum's future in doubt", "The FreeLance Star", February 21, 2009, Accessed December 29, 2010
  8. ^ Hannon, Kelly, "Land Sale Looms for Museum Site", "The FreeLance Star", December 29, 2010, Accessed December 29, 2010
  9. ^ Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, Sunday August 14, 2011, Metro page B-2, "Slavery Museum Misses Tax Deadline"; accessed 14 August 2011.
  10. ^ Hannon, Kelly "Slavery Museum Donors Ignored", "The FreeLance Star", February 13, 2011; accessed 14 August 2011.

Further reading

  • Dwayne Yancey, When Hell Froze Over (1988, updated 1990)
  • Don Baker, Wilder: Hold Fast to Dreams (1989)
  • Margaret Edds, Claiming the Dream (1990)

External links

Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
J. Sargeant Reynolds
Virginia Senate, District 30
Succeeded by
Leroy S. Bendheim
Preceded by
M. Patton Echols
Virginia Senate, District 9
Succeeded by
Benjamin Lambert
Preceded by
Richard Joseph Davis
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
January 18, 1986–January 14, 1990
Succeeded by
Don Beyer
Preceded by
Jerry Baliles
Governor of Virginia
January 14, 1990–January 15, 1994
Succeeded by
George Allen
Preceded by
Rudolph McCollum Jr.
Mayor of Richmond, Virginia
January 2, 2005–January 1, 2009
Succeeded by
Dwight Clinton Jones

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