Politics and Government

State Office Holders

Who was the nation’s first black elected governor?

In 1986 L. (Lawrence) Douglas Wilder (1931–) was the first black lieutenant governor of Virginia. In 1990 Wilder became the nation’s first black elected governor. In a hard-fought race, he defeated his Republican opponent and was elected to office on November 7, 1998. (In 1872 Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback [1837–1921] became the country’s first black governor, but he was appointed to the short-term post.) Wilder was born in segregated Richmond, a mere two miles from the Governor’s Mansion where he would live later on. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Union University in 1951 and his law degree at the Howard University School of Law in 1959. Wilder served in the U.S. Army and was sent to Korea. He became a sergeant and was awarded the Bronze Star. After his discharge, he entered Howard University’s law school and graduated in May 1959. Wilder joined his father’s law firm in Richmond and became known as a very effective trial lawyer. He made a successful bid for the Virginia State Senate in 1969, becoming the first black to hold that position. In his first address before the senate, he criticized the state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” stating that some of the lyrics glorified slavery and were offensive to blacks. Nonetheless, Virginia retained its song until 1997, when it was retired because some of the lyrics being deemed offensive. Wilder continued to enjoy political success, as was seen in 1989 when he ran for governor. On September 13, 1991, he announced that he would seek the 1992 Democratic nomination for president but later withdrew his name and devoted his efforts to solving the state’s financial problems. In 1997 Virginia Union University named its new library and learning center in his honor. From 2005 to 2009, Wilder was mayor of Richmond and the first black to hold that post.



A politician from Virginia, L. Douglas Wilder became that state’s lieutenant governor in 1986 and governor in 1990, the first black man to win those seats in the United States.

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