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Not by Design, By Accident

A Book Review on the Nation’s First Black Governor, And Virginia’s Racist History for All to See Out at Same Time

I finished my review of Doug Wilder’s  Son of Virginia, now out in paperback, on Pearl Harbor Day for the Naval Historical Foundation.  The nation’s first African-American governor’s connections to the Navy are tenuous. His military experience as a young, drafted, black man, eventually becoming an Army noncommissioned officer in the crucible of the stalemated Korean War, however, is a defining part of his character.  Wilder’s time in uniform, as testing as it was under the severest of combat stress in a still segregated military by practice rather than order, proved as invaluable to him as a man as the lessons on life that his mother impressed on him about working hard and studying.

To have the review posted Friday, following a weeklong series of shocks over the white governor’s and attorney general’s admissions of donning black face while college students in the 1980s and two women  accusing the African-American lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting them, still seems surreal to me.

The governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are all Democrats, as is Wilder. Calls for their resignations by fellow state and national Democrats, and at least one official threatening to introduce articles of impeachment in the lieutenant governor’s case, have grown more insistent with each passing day.

At the time of the “black face” admissions [and yearbook picture in the governor’s case, as well], Wilder was already a force in Virginia politics as a state senator from Richmond, on his way to becoming lieutenant governor and then into the executive mansion on a razor-thin majority.  The Democratic Party in the state was moving then in an almost 180-degree opposite direction from its “Massive Resistance” past of the 1950s.

Here are two links: one to the review because I believe Wilder has important things to say about race in the United States then and now:

And from today’s NYT, assessing Virginia’s history, in part using Wilder’s statewide campaigns as measuring sticks of progress, and how elusive change has proven to be. Was it veneer, a coating? Image over substance?


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