The first African American governor in United States history, L. Douglas Wilder was born in Richmond’s Church Hill district in 1931. There, he was raised with five sisters and a brother at 28th and P Streets, amidst a backdrop he characterized as “gentle poverty.”
The grandson of slaves, Wilder grew up in segregated Richmond and completed his undergraduate degree at Virginia Union University before going on to receive a law degree from Howard University. He received a Bronze Star for heroism in Korea, and then returned to Richmond to open a law office. When he ran for the State Senate and won, he became the first African American state senator since Reconstruction.
Working in the General Assembly, the first bill the senator introduced sought to banish “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny” as the state song for its romantic portrayal of slavery. It failed. (After having its lyrics altered several times, the song was retired officially in 1997.) He held his senate seat for sixteen years, and in 1989, won the governorship of Virginia, becoming the first African American to hold that office in the United States. A second – Deval Patrick of Massachusetts – would not be elected until 2006.