L. Douglas Wilder, 66th Governor of Virginia

It is astounding to me that there is the continuing misreading of Virginia’s historical role in the denial of educational opportunities for African Americans.

The recent action of the Isle of Wight School Board, in declaring that systemic racism doesn’t exist, is just one example that continues today.

The actions of the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors obstructing the efforts of the superintendent, addressing the school’s racist past is another example.

What confounds me is the absence of “leaders”, speaking historical facts and truth, improving the present situation.

This is why I chose to be a lawyer. Virginia law prohibited me from attending law school in the state.

I was fortunate to be accepted at Howard University in the nation’s capital.

There, we were taught to return to your communities and work for improvement.

After 10 years of establishing a successful law practice, I sought public office, to add my voice to demanding what was right and criticizing what was wrong.

I remember when there were only a handful of leaders in our local and state offices addressing the inequities of the past.

But they were heard, and changes were made. In fact, Dr. W. Ferguson “Fergie” Reid, who also had to go out of state to study medicine, was the first African American since Reconstruction to be elected to the legislature in 1967. Two years later, Dr. William “Bill” P. Robinson joined him and I was also elected to the State Senate. I was the first African American to be elected to that body since that period of denial.

We founded the Black Caucus and had meetings involving the public at Virginia Union University. We had no legislative assistants, and the beginning salary was $1,500.00 per year, with $50 extra for stamps and stationery. Despite these limited resources, little escaped our attention and we advocated for issues of the people —  all of the people — and we were heard.

Should the public deserve no less today? With the significant increases in funds for legislative members and their staffs, why is the leadership so lacking? There are those bragging about Virginia’s education ranking among K-12 students, while our capital, Richmond, remains at the bottom, although spending is above the state average.

No one’s vote should be taken for granted. No party should believe that they do not need to seek support from all Virginians. As I have stated on several occasions, Virginia is neither a blue state nor a red state, nor even a purple state. I know, from having lived here for the entirety of my life, it is a people’s state, and I hope that continues.

Stay tuned.

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