Inaugurating the Future: L. Douglas Wilder Is Sworn in as First U.S. Black Elected Governor

By Bennett, Lerone, Jr. | Ebony, April 1990 | Go to article overview

Inaugurating the Future: L. Douglas Wilder Is Sworn in as First U.S. Black Elected Governor


Bennett, Lerone, Jr., Ebony


Inaugurating The Future

WHEN, a hundred years from today, historians set down the true history of our times, they will probably say that the Civil War ended not in April 1865 but in January 1990 when Lawrence Douglas Wilder, the grandson of slaves, stood on a platform in front of a Thomas Jefferson-designed Capitol, the former seat of the Confederacy, and was sworn in as the first Black governor of Virginia and the first Black elected governor in U.S. history.

There was history--and poetry--in the event and the hour and the place. For this was more than the inauguration of a man--it was the inauguration of a new and different future. And it brought together descendants of slaves and descendants of slaveowners in an unforgettable moment of memory and transcendence.

No one understood this better than the thousands who stood for hours in the bone-chilling cold to see history in the making. Some in the predominantly Black crowd said irreverently that various Confederate heroes and certain White founding fathers were pirouetting in their graves, but the same people said Blacks and Whites must make a special effort to confront and transcend the past in the making of the "New Mainstream" that Gov. Wilder called for.

The event began appropriately enough with an invocation by a Black Baptist minister, the Rev. Joe B. Fleming, who quoted--what else?--"Lift Every Voice and Sing:"

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far along the way. . . . "Thank you! The old order changeth, giving place to the new. …

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