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Douglas Wilder

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Lawrence Douglas Wilder

Lawrence Douglas Wilder (born January 17, 1931) is an American politician. He is the first African American to have been elected governor of a U.S. state1</sup>, serving as Governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994. He is currently Mayor of Richmond, Virginia.

Wilder was born in Richmond, Virginia. The grandson of slaves, he was named after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and abolitionist, speaker, and author Frederick Douglass. He attended racially segregated George Mason Elementary School and Armstrong High School, going on to Virginia Union University, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1951. Wilder then served in the Korean conflict, earning a Bronze Star. After his service, he attended Howard University School of Law under the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1959 and co-founding the law firm Wilder, Gregory, and Associates.

Wilder began his career in public office after winning a 1969 special election to the Senate of Virginia, becoming the first African American state Senator from Virginia since Reconstruction. In 1985, still holding office in the state Senate, he was narrowly elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia on a Democratic ticket under then-Attorney General Gerald Baliles. Upon his election, Wilder became the first African American elected to statewide executive office in the South in the twentieth century.

Ascending from the office of Lieutenant Governor, Wilder was elected to succeed Baliles in November 1989, defeating Republican Marshall Coleman by a spread of less than half a percent. The closeness of the margin prompted a recount, which certified Wilder's victory, and he was sworn in on January 13, 1990. In recognition of his landmark achievement, the NAACP awarded Wilder the Spingarn Medal for 1990.

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A Wilder campaign poster for the Virginia Senate

Despite being a Democrat and the first African American governor of Virginia, many see Wilder's politics as catering to white conservatives. Since the 1970s he has supported the death penalty and has generally run on an "anti-crime" platform. In response to a waning budget balance during his period as governor, Wilder supported some of the most dramatic cuts in allocations for higher education in the United States. He came under scrutiny in the mid-1990s for his attacks on fellow Democrat Chuck Robb and his support of Republican Mark Earley. Wilder briefly considered running for President in 1992 and for the U.S. Senate in 1994. Since his tenure as governor, Wilder has declared himself an independent.

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); R.C. "Rudy" McCollum Jr. received 11% (8,079 votes), Charles H. Nance received 8% (5,912), and Lawrence E. Williams Sr. received 2% (1,138). Wilder is the first directly elected Mayor of Richmond in sixty years. Upon winning the election in November, Wilder communicated his intentions of aggressively taking on corruption in the city government by issuing several ultimatums to the sitting City Council even before he took office.

Wilder is a prominent, life member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. a intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.

Preceded by:
Jerry Baliles
1986-1990
Governor of Virginia
1990-1994
Succeeded by:
George F. Allen
1994-1998

Note

The first African American governor of a U.S. state was P. B. S. Pinchback, who became Governor of Louisiana on December 9, 1872 upon the removal of his predecessor from office.

Sources

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