L. Douglas Wilder 

North Side of the Capitol, Jan. 13, 1990

L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first black elected governor, looks back on his Inauguration Day with vivid memories of how emotional it was for many people. “Later that day I saw someone who was in attendance but had stood in a spot where he couldn't see the actual swearing in,” Wilder says. “And tears were streaming down their face. They said that they had waited for hours to get in [to Capitol Square]. And said they never thought they would see this day.”

Wilder says that in planning his inaugural he wanted to stress that his election “was a larger progressive achievement, rather than an individual note of progress. I was microscopic or a composite of Virginia and the nation, symbolizing many people who were not there or no longer alive.”

Wilder invited fellow native Richmonder, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to conduct the swearing-in. “I wanted a Virginian of renown and respect,” he says — “someone who had contributed to Virginia's re-emergence as a leading state.”

Wilder calls Powell, who had earlier served as chairman of the Richmond School Board, “a tremendous man — he and I had been friends for some time.”

But there were doubts about his participation, he says, because “he had not been well. The only concern he had was that he couldn't stand the cold weather.”

“I had on fortifications,” Wilder says of his thermal underwear, which “became welcome friends.”


click to enlarge feat02_wilder_400.jpg

On the evening of Jan. 13, 1990, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder leads off the dancing with his daughter, Lynn, at his inaugural ball held at the Richmond Coliseum.

Following his swearing-in and speech, Wilder says he was particularly attentive to keeping focused on the inaugural parade. “The thing that I remember during the Baliles inaugural [when Wilder had become lieutenant governor] was that people thought that Mary Sue Terry [the attorney general] and I seemed to have too much fun talking [with others on the platform] and not enough watching.”

When it comes to inaugural balls, where he took a few spins on the floor with his daughters, Wilder laughs and gives this advice: “If you ever want to go to a dance and dance, you don't want to be governor. It was an exhilarating experience — to see that number of people who were eager to participate in our celebration.”

And what advice does Wilder offer his successors? “Just relax and enjoy,” he says. “It will be the lightest and easiest of the entire tenure. It is true. It is the moment where people wish a new governor well whether they voted for him or not.”


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