Lawrence Douglas Wilder 1931 -
In January of 1990, Lawrence Douglas Wilder was sworn in as the nation’s first elected African American governor. Wilder, a Democrat, became Virginia’s 66th governor.
At the time it was believed Wilder was paving the way for African Americans to strive for and assume their state’s highest office. But to this day, Deval Patrick (D - Mass) and Wilder remain the only two African Americans to ever be elected governor in the U.S.
Despite the monumental nature of Virginia’s gubernatorial competition in 1989, race was not at the forefront, rather the hot-button issue of abortion. Wilder broke with the majority of his party, and benefited from his pro-choice stance. It is predicted that this election made abortion the de facto litmus test for anyone seeking high public office.
Wilder’s moderate ideological background impressed voters, who viewed him as an independent voice for the Democratic Party. His military service only enhanced the perception that Virginia constituents already had of him. Wilder was not only a war veteran, but also a Bronze Star recipient. The Bronze Star Medal is only awarded for 'heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.' This description of the Bronze Star criteria holds true for Wilder.
Wilder was honored with the Bronze Star for actions he took during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, when he captured 19 North Koreans. Wilder and a fellow soldier avoided enemy fire and were able to capture the North Koreans by disorienting them by smoking out their bunkers
Wilder earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia Union University. Once Wilder realized how oppressive the country remained, and was armed with the Brown v. Board ruling, Wilder decided to attend Howard University Law School.