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Governor Douglas Wilder Taking the Oath of Office, Photograph, 1990


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


Lawrence Douglas Wilder (1931–) was sworn in as governor of Virginia on January 13, 1990. Wilder, a grandson of enslaved peoples, made history in 1985 when he became the first Black person elected to statewide office in Virginia. 

Wilder was a student in Richmond's racially segregated public schools. He attended George Mason Elementary and Armstrong High School. In 1951, he graduated from Virginia Union University with a degree in chemistry. After college, he served in the army during the Korean War. He won the Bronze Star for heroism in combat. After the war, Wilder returned to Richmond and worked in the state medical examiner's office as a chemist. He went on to study law at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his degree Juris Doctor in 1959. After passing the bar examination in Virginia, he established his own law firm, Wilder, Gregory, and Associates. Wilder entered politics in 1969, running in a special election for the Virginia State Senate. He became the first Black state senator in the state since the Reconstruction era. He was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 1986. In 1990, he became the nation's first elected Black governor serving from 1990 until 1994.

The photograph shows the swearing in ceremony when Wilder became the 66th Governor of Virginia. Witnesses to the inauguration were the new governor's daughter, son, and daughter-in-law, flanking him in the photo. Retired United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell (1907–1998) administered the oath of office, and behind Wilder is retiring Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles (1940–).

Citation: Photograph of Governor Douglas Wilder Taking the Oath of Office, 13 January 1990, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.


Social Studies: VS.I, VS.9, USII.1, USII.8, USII.9, VUS.1, VUS.15
Art: 4.1, 5.1

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Look at It: Look at the photograph, what is happening in the image? Why might have this event been important?

Post Activities

Art Exploration: Design a poster or button to commemorate the anniversary of the event.

Social Media Spin: Create s social media post to describe Douglas Wilder and the historic nature of this event.

Current Connections: Wilder’s election was the first of its kind in Virginia. Are there any other elections in which the winning candidate for office broke boundaries? Your responses can be based on state, national, or international examples.