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Nation's first elected Black governor accuses state library of racism for delay of gubernatorial papers

The Hill logo The Hill 7/5/2020 J. Edward Moreno
Douglas Wilder holding a sign: Nation's first elected Black governor accuses state library of racism for delay of gubernatorial papers © Getty Images Nation's first elected Black governor accuses state library of racism for delay of gubernatorial papers

Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder (D), who was elected as the country's first Black governor over 30 years ago, said that the Library of Virginia is discriminating against him by not making records from his term publicly available like they have for governors who have followed him.

Wilder, who took office in January 1990 and ended his term four years later, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he doesn't under how later, white governors of the state have had their papers processed before him.

"Why isn't it racism?" Wilder asked, adding that he decided to make the dispute public on Friday because "I just thought the taxpayers of Virginia need to know this."

"The neglect and obfuscation conveys the handling of his administration's gubernatorial papers to be current examples of racism and does not reflect well on the state of Virginia," Wilder's assistant, Angelica Bega, told State Archivist Michael Strom in an email message Friday morning, according to the Times-Dispatch.

State Librarian Sandra Gioia Treadway on Friday admitted to the newspaper that Wilder's records had "fallen off the radar," unlike the complete records of the three white governors who succeeded him.

Treadway said that the situation is "devastating for me, but we are addressing it." She said budget cuts during the great recession led to less staff maintaining records, though it's unclear why Wilder's specifically are still missing.

State lawmakers have proposed legislation to assure proper archiving for gubernatorial records but the efforts have fallen flat in the past. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) plans to call the assembly into special session later this year to revise the two-year budget.


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