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Center for Politics Recognizes Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder with Defender of Democracy Award

(CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA) – Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is the recipient of the Center for Politics’ second annual Defender of Democracy Award. Wilder, a Democrat, was the nation’s first elected Black governor, winning election in 1989.

Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will present Wilder with the award at a luncheon event at the University of Virginia’s Rotunda Dome Room on Friday, Sept. 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the presentation itself beginning around 12:15 p.m.

“Time and time again, Doug Wilder achieved what most others believed was impossible, battling against some of the most powerful people and institutions in America and their narrow-minded, exclusionary views of who could and could not hold elected office in this country. In so doing, Doug Wilder gifted to the nation and the world a broader and more inclusive understanding of the word ‘democracy’ itself, and he continues to pave new paths for current and future generations of Americans,” Sabato said.

Registration for the event is now full, but members of the media are welcome to attend. The presentation will be livestreamed at

Wilder grew up attending racially segregated public schools in his hometown of Richmond and graduated from Virginia Union University in 1951 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 ended, he earned his Juris Doctorate from the Howard University School of Law in 1959 before establishing his own firm, Wilder, Gregory and Associates.

He entered politics in 1969 by winning a special election to the Virginia state Senate, becoming the first Black state senator in Virginia since Reconstruction. After more than a decade and a half in the Senate, he was elected lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1985. Four years later, he was elected Virginia’s 66th governor, serving from 1990-1994.

In the early 2000s, the people of Richmond reached out to Wilder and asked him to help lead an effort to reform the governing structure of the city of Richmond to create a strong-mayor form of government. It passed overwhelmingly, and in 2004, indicative of the respect the city held for him, the former governor became Richmond’s first popularly-elected strong mayor in a half century.

When Wilder retired from the office of mayor in 2009, he returned to his role as a Distinguished Professor at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia created the Defender of Democracy Award in 2022 with special project award funding provided by the Larry J. Sabato Foundation. The award honors and recognizes individuals whose positive actions help improve or strengthen democracy. Nine U.S. Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 were the recipients of the inaugural Defender of Democracy award last year.

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