L. Douglass Wilder: Mixed-Race 'Trailblazer'
Lawrence Douglas Wilder:
The 'Trailblazer' MGM-Mixed /
Mixed-Race Governor of VA.
When elected as governor of Virginia (VA) in 1989,
L. Douglas Wilder became the first person of the
largely Multi-Racial Ethnic group that is currently
referred to under the term of African-American to
be elected Governor of any any state in the U.S.A.
He has also served as State Senator
and Lieutenant Governor of Virginia .
A native of Richmond , Wilder has been recognized
throughout his career as an individual who has
skillfully eased tensions between the races.
The Biography of
L. Douglas Wilder:
Born to Robert and Beulah Wilder on January 17, 1931,
in Richmond , Virginia , Lawrence Douglas Wilder, the
MGM-Mixed / Mixed-Race grandson of slaves,
was named after abolitionist-orator Frederick
Douglass and poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
Growing up in the Church Hill section of Richmond along
with six sisters and a brother, he attended George Mason
Elementary School and Armstrong High School .
In 1951, Wilder graduated from Virginia Union
University in Richmond with a B.S. degree in
chemistry, whereupon he served in the U.S. Army.
While serving in Korea , he received the
Bronze Star for Heroism in ground combat for
rescuing GIs and for capturing enemy troops.
Returning to Virginia , Wilder worked as a
Chemist for the state medical examiner's office.
When he decided to take advantage of the GI Bill to study
law, he had to leave the state, because Virginia barred
"blacks" from attending its law schools at the time.
In 1959, he graduated from Howard University School
of Law in Washington , D.C.with a Juris Doctor degree.
After passing the bar, he established the law firm which
came to be known as Wilder, Gregory and Associated -
one of the few minority-owed businesses in Virginia - and
went on to develop a reputation as a top criminal trial lawyer.
In 1969, Wilder entered politics, running in a special, at-
large election for a vacated state Senate seat in Richmond .
By winning that election, he became the first person
of the largely Multi-Racial Ethnic group currently
referred to as `African-American' to serve as a
State Senator in Virginia -- since Reconstruction.
During his five terms in the Virginia Senate,
he was consistently recognized as one
of the most effective legislators.
He chaired committees on transportation, rehabilitation
and social services; privileges and elections; the
Virginia Advisory Legislative Council; and
the Democratic Steering Committee.
In addition, he successfully sponsored
Virginia 's first drug-paraphernalia law
and the compulsory-school-attendance law.
He brought sickle-cell anemia victims into the state
care coverage and toughed the penalties for capital
murderers by requiring more time served, as well
as for those who escaped from prison.
He sponsored many of Virginia 's housing laws, including
the creation of the authority to provide low and moderate
income housing, as well as the Virginia Fair Housing Law.
Additionally, for eight years, he persisted until
Virginia declared a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.
(The bill had been vetoed twice by former
governors and never supported any of them.)
Wilder made history again in 1985 by being elected as
Virginia 's first African-American Lieutenant Governor.
During his four-year, he chaired the Democratic
Lieutenant Governor's Association and the
Drug Interdiction Task Force of the National
Democratic Conference of Lieutenant Governors.
In addition, he continued to fight
for the repeal of regressive-taxes.
On January 13, 1990, a milestone was achieved
when Virginia 's 66th Governor, Lawrence Douglas
Wilder, was sworn in as the first elected
African-American Governor in U.S. history.
What made the event all the more meaningful was
that he was elected in Virginia , a state that was the
former capitol of the Confederacy and that once
denied him admission to its all-white schools.
In endorsing his candidacy, The Washington Post,
called him "an uncommon figure in contemporary
politics because he has not ridden the media to his
present position, but has worked his way up."
During Governor Wilder's four years in office ( Virginia
law precludes a Governor from succeeding himself), his
Administration achieved numerous successes, among them:
- Nationally-recognized leadership in fiscal management,
with Virginia ranked by Financial World magazine as
the Nation's best-managed state, two years in a row.
- Despite a national recession and unprecedented defense
spending cutbacks, Governor Wilder balanced the state's
budgets without tax increases and without jeopardizing
the state's triple-A rating, by paring the size of
government without cutting essential services.
- He was given consistent high marks for state
management by several national organizations
ranking the performance of governors.
- Anti-crime initiatives, a comprehensive package of
legislation which included the one-gun-per-month
handgun purchase limit laws, one of the strictest
handgun control laws in the Nation.
- Programs to make Virginia 's government work for
its people, by opening up the procurement process,
recruiting more women and minorities to public
service, and reducing levels of the Commonwealth's
bureaucracy through "Project Streamline."
Virginia University named its new Library the
L. Douglas Wilder Learning Resource Center.
Norfolk State University named its new Performing
Arts Center the L. Douglas Wilder Performing
Arts Center and Hampton University has
named its new men's dormitory for him.
A new middle school in the Richmond
area will also bear his name.
Finding the fiscal problems and social injustice of
this great nation intolerable, Wilder declared
for the presidency on September 13, 1991.
He strongly felt that a message of fiscal
prudence, racial healing and caring for
people had to be delivered to America .
But, on January 8, 1993, citing his responsibilities
as Governor to be paramount, Wilder withdrew from
the race to re-devote all of this attention and
energies to the Commonwealth of Virginia .
Wilder has three children - Lynn Diana, an
artist; Lawrence, Jr., a lawyer; and Loren
Wilder-James, a market and finance analyst.
He is currently associated with Virginia
Commonwealth University serving as a
Distinguished Professor at the Center for Public
Policy as well as the Department of Political Science.
He lectures on the national circuit and has a
weekly Radio talk show and writes as a columnist.
Copyright © 2003 U.Va. Center for Politics.
- Nationally-recognized leadership in fiscal management,