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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–  ) made history more than once in Virginia and was the nation's first African American to win election as governor of a state. 

The grandson of slaves, Doug Wilder attended racially segregated public schools in Richmond. He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1951 with a degree in chemistry. He served in the army during the Korean War, earning the Bronze Star for heroism in combat. He worked as a chemist in the state medical examiner's office in Richmond, but the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas inspired him to study law. Wilder earned a law degree from Howard University, in Washington, D.C., in 1959. After passing the bar examination in Virginia, he established his own law firm, Wilder, Gregory, and Associates. He also entered politics and won a special election in 1969 for a seat in the Virginia State Senate, becoming Virginia's first Black state senator since the 1890s. A prominent legislator, Wilder was a strong advocate for Black Virginians. In 1985 he was elected lieutenant governor, the first Black person to win statewide office in Virginia. In 1989 he made history again when he won election as Virginia's governor. 

After serving as governor from 1990 to 1994, Wilder joined the faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University and in 2004 won election as mayor of Richmond. 

This photograph shows Wilder taking the oath of office as the 66th governor of Virginia on January 13, 1990. 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 a social media post to describe Douglas Wilder and the historic nature of this event.

Current Connections: Wilder’s election as lieutenant governor 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.