L. Douglas Wilder
National Visionary

Born January 17, 1931 in Richmond, Virginia

1st Elected African American Governor in US Currently Mayor of Richmond, VA

The grandson of a former slave, Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born on January 17th, 1931 in the Church Hill section of Richmond, Virginia. With six sisters and one brother, life in the Wilder household was defined by hard work, family and education. As a boy, Wilder also sought out his own business opportunities, starting a window washing business, and a subsequent painting operation, as well.

When Wilder graduated from high school, the country was entering the recession of 1948. While he hoped to join the Navy, his parents would not consent, and instead he entered Virginia Union University where he majored in Chemistry. One year after graduating Virginia Union, Wilder, in 1952 was drafted into the US Army to fight in the Korean War. While in Korea, Wilder earned the Bronze Star for heroism in ground combat for his role in rescuing wounded GIs and capturing enemy troops. However, like the black soldiers who had returned from WWII less than a decade before, Wilder found that his heroic actions in war were not enough to exempt him from racism and segregation in the United States. To take advantage of the GI bill to attended law school, for example, he had to leave the state of Virginia because it barred blacks from attending its law schools. In 1959 he graduated Howard University with a Juris Doctor degree and passed the Virginia State Bar exam that same year. Wilder returned to Richmond where he established the law firm, Wilder, Gregory and Associates, one of the few minority-owned businesses in Richmond at that time.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
Wilder made his entrance into politics in 1969 with a successful run for the Virginia State Senate and became the first African American state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction. Wilder served five terms, during which time he chaired committees on transportation, rehabilitation and social services. In 1985, Wilder became the first elected African American lieutenant governor. He had, however, always seen lieutenant governor as necessary stop on his way to the governorship, and in 1990 he achieved his monumental position as the first elected African American governor in US history. Issues and achievements that defined Wilder’s tenure as governor include the balancing of the state budget and earning Virginia its ranking as the nation’s best-managed state.

After leaving the governorship in 1994 (Virginia has a non-consecutive term policy), Wilder remained active in political and public life. He hosted a radio talk show, served as a distinguished professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and founded the National Slavery Museum which is currently under construction in Fredericksburg, Virginia. After his ten year hiatus from elected office, Wilder, in 2005 successfully ran for mayor of the city of Richmond. He has three children, Loren, Larry and Lynn, and two grandchildren.



URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/wilderdouglas