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Sat, 01.17.1931

Douglas Wilder, Politician born

Douglas Wilder

*Douglas Wilder was born on this date in 1931. He is a Black lawyer, professor, and politician.

Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born in Richmond, Virginia, the seventh of eight children. The grandson of slaves, he was named after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and abolitionist, speaker, and author Frederick Douglass. He attended segregated George Mason Elementary School, Armstrong High School, and Virginia Union University, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1951.

Wilder then served in the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. After his service in 1958, Wilder married Eunice Montgomery. Before divorcing in 1978, they had three children: Loren, Lynn, and Lawrence Douglas, Jr. 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 political career after winning a 1969 special election to the Senate of Virginia. He became 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 succeed, Baliles in 1989. In 1990, in recognition of his landmark achievement, the NAACP awarded Wilder the Spingarn Medal. As governor, Wilder granted a pardon to basketball star Allen Iverson. Iverson was accused of assaulting a woman in a bowling alley and sentenced to 15 years. After Iverson had served just five months, Governor Wilder granted amnesty and released Iverson from his prison sentence.

During his term, he oversaw 14 executions and some failed electrocutions. Wilder left office in 1994 because Virginia does not allow governors to serve successive terms. In 2004, Wilder announced his intention to run for Mayor of Richmond. Until recently, the Richmond City Council chose the mayor among its nine 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 became the first directly elected Mayor of Richmond in sixty years. He is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition. Wilder is a life member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. In 2004, Virginia Commonwealth University named its School of Government and Public Affairs in honor of him; Wilder serves as an adjunct faculty member at the school. The Virginia Union University Library, Norfolk State University performing arts center, and a Hampton University dormitory are named after him.

Wilder is the founder of the United States National Slavery Museum, a non-profit organization based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Beset by financial problems, the museum was assessed delinquent property taxes for 2009, 2010, and 2011. The organization filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on September 22, 2011.

In 2012, he refused to support Barack Obama for another term. He noted that he supported Obama in 2008 but said the president's tenure in the Oval Office thus far had been disappointing. Wilder did not endorse Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, and later said that he hoped for an Obama victory despite having gone to a Romney fundraiser.

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