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L. Douglas Wilder Collection at Virginia Union University

November 26, 2018


The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, humanitarian, civil rights leader and the first elected African-American governor (1990-1994) in the nation, is one of Virginia Union University’s most celebrated alumni.  He was the first Black legislator to serve in the Virginia State Senate since Reconstruction (1969-1986), and the first Black lieutenant governor of Virginia (1986-1990).

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder

The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder

Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born to Robert and Beulah Wilder on January 17, 1931 in Richmond, Virginia.  The grandson of slaves, he was named after abolitionist-orator Frederick Douglass and the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  He grew up in the Church Hill district of Richmond long with six sisters and a brother. In 1951, Lawrence Douglas Wilder graduated from Virginia Union University with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.  He then entered the Army, earning a bronze star in Korea for demonstrating heroism in ground combat. Upon returning to Virginia, he decided to study law after working as a chemist for the state medical examiner’s office for a while. In order to study law, he had to leave the state of Virginia because Virginia law schools did not admit blacks. In 1959, he graduated from Howard University school of Law in Washington, DC with a Juris Doctor degree.  After passing the bar exam, he established the law firm, Wilder, Gregory, and Associates – one of the few minority owned businesses at the time.

In 1969, Wilder entered politics running for a vacated state Senate seat in Richmond.  He won the seat becoming the first African-American state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction.  As Senator, he chaired several committees and successfully sponsored Virginia’s first drug paraphernalia law and compulsory school attendance law.   In 1985, Wilder made history again by being elected Virginia’s first African-American Lieutenant Governor.

On January 13, 1990, he was sworn in as the first elected African-American Governor in U.S. History. As Governor, he led anti-crime initiatives including one-gun-per-month handgun purchase limit laws, passage by the General Assembly of the largest general obligation bonds package in Virginia history of $613 million in bonds supporting building projects and capital improvements at Virginia’s colleges and universities, and was recognized nationally for his leadership in fiscal management, with Virginia ranked by Financial World magazine s the nation’s best-managed state, two years in a row.  Governor Wilder served as Mayor of the city of Richmond, Virginia from 2005 to 2009, in addition to lecturing on the national circuit and serving as a Distinguished Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center Dedication, February 14, 1997, Photo by Doug Buerlein

The L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center, named in honor of former Governor Wilder, opened in January 1997 on the campus of Virginia Union University. The library houses the office and collection of the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder.

The library currently houses his awards and historic memorabilia in a spectacular showcase setting which is a very popular national and international attraction.  The permanent exhibit of framed photographs, awards, and memorabilia on display documents his inaugurations, travel to Africa meeting with African leaders, his family, civil rights leaders, and speaking at institutions of higher education.  The exhibit also includes his military service in Korea and the Award of the Bronze Star, his visits with heads of state, and renowned celebrities and friends.

Virginia Union University has maintained the L. Douglas Wilder Collection since 1990 when donated by L. Douglas Wilder.  The collection covers Governor Wilder’s civic, military and political career from the late 1950’s through 2009.  The personal papers of L. Douglas Wilder of materials from his life and career as Virginia Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and Mayor of the City of Richmond.  The collection also includes correspondence, reports, speeches, campaign documents, schedules, radio program notes, magazine articles and news clippings, photographs, plaques, trophies, framed documents, honorary degrees, drawings, recordings, memorabilia, and other manuscripts.

The Press Office Photo Collection of the L. Douglas Wilder collection contains the photo record of his activities as Governor, including special occasions like his inauguration, visits from foreign dignitaries and even the Arthur Ashe funeral and his lying in state at the Executive Mansion. These negatives and photos span the years Governor Wilder was in office 1989-1994. The collection contains over 1,500 rolls of film.

The video tapes of the L. Douglas Wilder collection primarily span the years 1983-2001. They include the gubernatorial debates between Wilder and Marshall Coleman, political advertisements, public service announcements, Wilder’s inauguration ceremony, the State of the Commonwealth addresses, and Wilder interviews on national news shows such as World News Tonight, Nightline, C Span, Sunday Morning and the Today Show. The collection contains over 370 video tapes.

Wilder Radio Show_WRVA

Governor Wilder at WRVA, Rich Piermarini, Photographer for Governor Wilder, L. Douglas Wilder Collection

The audio cassette tapes of the L. Douglas Wilder collection contains over 300 entries and span the years 1995-2001. The recordings are primarily of Wilder’s popular WRVA radio talk show. Other tapes include public service announcements, campaign ads, press conferences and national news interviews Wilder had with such news organizations as CNN, BBC and CBS, public service announcement, campaign ads, and press conferences.

Approximately 200 linear feet of the collection has been processed. Processing of the full collection is expected to be completed by Summer 2019. For more information on the L. Douglas Wilder Collection visit or contact the Archivist between 9:00 am – 5:00 pm weekdays at (804) 278-4117 or


Guide to the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center, Virginia Union University.

Ingram, Handsel. G., Tillerson, Thomas M., Walker, Mary C. & Myers, Lavonda E. Guide to The L. Douglas Wilder Collection. Special Collections and Archives Department, William J. Clark Library, Virginia Union University, May 1992.

Wilder, L. Douglas. Son of Virginia: A Life in America’s Political Arena. Guildford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2015.


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