Three Black Governors Since Reconstruction—Who Have They Been?
(Blogger’s Note 3/7/12—Four years fater this post was written, there have still been only three black post-reconstruction governors. Mr. Paterson is no longer Governor of New York. He did not run for reelection in 2010. Also, Mr. Wilder is no longer Mayor of Richmond. Governor Patrick won reelection as Governor of Massachusetts in 2010. Maybe somebody reading this post can be the next black governor, or will work hard to elect such a person.)
Newly inaugurated New York Governor David Paterson is America’s third black post-reconstruction governor.
Who are the other two black governors in American history and who is Mr. Paterson?
It was only relatively recently that any U.S. State elected a black governor.
It is often difficult to elect a black to statewide office.
Douglas Wilder was elected Governor of Virginia in 1989 and served the one term a Virginia Governor is permitted.
Here is what it is says about Douglas Wilder and Virginia in the 2008 Almanac of American Politics—
In the 1980s, three moderate Democrats were elected governor–Charles Robb in 1981, Gerald Baliles in 1985, Douglas Wilder in 1989–because they no longer represented an attempt to impose a labor-liberal agenda on an unwilling Virginia, and because they argued they could use government effectively to improve education and build Virginia’s economy. Wilder’s election was a national breakthrough, a successful attempt by a black politician to campaign and govern on equal terms. His fiscal conservatism, which resulted in sharp spending cuts in the early 1990s, like his elegant manners and thick Richmond accent, echoes Virginia’s elitist and libertarian tradition; his insistence on the rule of law helped him win election as Richmond’s mayor in 2004.
You can make of that what you will.
The following description of Mr. Wilder is from the Virginia Historical Society–
Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born on January 17, 1931, in Richmond, Virginia. The grandson of slaves, he was named after abolitionist-orator Frederick Douglass and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Wilder attended Richmond’s racially segregated public schools—George Mason Elementary and Armstrong High School. In 1951, he graduated from Virginia Union University with a degree in chemistry. He served in the army during the Korean War, during which he won the Bronze Star for heroism in combat. After the war, Wilder returned to Richmond and worked as a chemist in the state medical examiner’s office. Using the benefits provided under the G.I. Bill of Rights, he studied law at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his degree in 1959 and after passing the bar in Virginia established his own law firm, Wilder, Gregory, and Associates.
In 1969, Wilder entered politics, running in a special election for the Virginia state senate. He won and became the first African American state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction. Wilder spent ten years in the General Assembly and was recognized as one of its most effective legislators.
Mr. Wilder is the current Mayor of Richmond, Virgina. Here is his homepage as Mayor.
In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick was elected in 2006 as the second black Governor.
Here is information about Governor Patrick from the Almanac.
“Patrick grew up in a tough South Side Chicago neighborhood, and lived in an apartment where he shared a single room with his mother and sister; his father left the family when he was a child. As early as grade school he showed tremendous promise and a teacher recommended him to A Better Chance, an organization that identifies and sends gifted minority students to college preparatory schools. Patrick received a scholarship and was sent far from home to the tony Milton Academy in Massachusetts. “[It] was like coming to a different planet,” Patrick would later say. He attended Harvard College and after graduating spent a year working in Africa on a United Nations project in the Darfur region of Sudan. When he returned, he enrolled at Harvard Law School and then clerked for a federal appeals court judge in Los Angeles. In 1983, he joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York and in 1986 Patrick went into private law practice; in 1994, he was appointed as the Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights by President Bill Clinton. After three years in that post, Patrick returned to private practice in 1997 and later served as general counsel for Texaco and Coca-Cola…. Patrick was a long-shot in his first-ever run for elected office but his grassroots campaign quickly built support among liberal activists who liked his outsider message and his criticism of the state’s “backroom” political culture. He won the state party endorsement at its June 2006 convention, and after holding a steady lead in the polls throughout the summer, won the nomination decisively in the September 19 primary….Republican nominee was Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who sought to become the state’s first female governor….Patrick pointed to his credentials as a Justice Department prosecutor and highlighted his executive-level experience at two Fortune 500 companies as evidence of his business-friendly background. Late in the campaign, Patrick was put on the defensive when Healey’s campaign ran tough ads criticizing him for his advocacy on behalf of convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer. Patrick declined to respond with an aggressive counterattack, insisting that his success so far was the result of avoiding such conventional political tactics. His instincts proved correct: the ensuing publicity surrounding the negative ads—which featured a woman walking alone in a parking garage—muted the charges that Patrick would weaken criminal justice laws. He won a sweeping 56%-35% victory….In office, Patrick set about unraveling ( former Governor Mitt) Romney’s initiatives. He restored $383.6 million in budget cuts made by Romney, rescinded an agreement with the federal government that empowered the state police to arrest illegal immigrants, and put the brakes on a Romney administration plan to revamp the state’s automobile insurance system. He refused to sign a proclamation commemorating February 6, the late president’s birthday, as “Ronald Reagan Day.” But Patrick’s honeymoon period ended quickly as a series of missteps tarnished his image. Lavish spending on his official state car, helicopter travel, a renovation of the governor’s office that included $12,000 drapes and the hiring of a chief of staff for his wife led to weeks of bad press and harsh criticism. In March, Patrick acknowledged making a telephone call to Robert Rubin of Citigroup, which has significant business interests in the state, on behalf of the controversial mortgage lender Ameriquest; Patrick had served on Ameriquest’s parent company’s board of directors as recently as 2006. “
Governor David Paterson of New York State has been in office for just a short time since taking over for the disgraced Eliot Spitzer.
(Below–David Paterson. Photo by MMR Dad)
Here is some information about Mr. Paterson from the New York Times–
David A. Paterson was elected lieutenant governor of New York in November 2006, a position with no power and little prestige, then propelled into the governorship by Eliot Spitzer’s shocking fall from power after the revelation of his involvement with a prostitution ring. Taking office on March 17, 2008, Mr. Paterson became New York’s first African-American governor, and the first legally blind person to serve as the governor of any state….As the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, Mr. Paterson tried to make up for his lack of power with wit, flurries of reform proposals and unusual bursts of candor, a combination that has made him a quotable presence in a Capitol where such leaders are often ignored as irrelevant….Mr. Paterson was born to politics. His father, Basil, represented the same Harlem district that his son later did, and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1970. The younger Mr. Paterson was raised at the knees of much of Harlem’s old guard. He also grew up legally blind, after an infection as an infant that left him totally without sight in his left eye and with severely limited sight in his right. His family moved to Long Island, where they found a school that agreed to educate him in regular classrooms. He graduated from high school in three years, went to college at Columbia and graduated from Hofstra Law School.