RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is accusing the state’s library agency of racism. Wilder, the nation’s and commonwealth’s first elected Black governor, claims his gubernatorial records have not been completed but records of his white successors have.
Serving as Virginia’s governor from 1990-1994, Wilder says the Library of Virginia has had 26 years to finish his papers and there’s no valid reason for the delay.
Wilder sat down with 8News Reporter Talya Cunningham Monday afternoon going on the record about the accusations he made against the state library on East Broad Street.
Wilder posing the question, “If it is not racism then what is it?”.
By law, Virginia governors are required to turn over ‘papers’ at the end of their tenure, which are then processed and cataloged by the state library agency. Once that’s complete, the records are made available for the public.
The papers are a detailed snapshot of everything a Virginia governor has done from inauguration day to the day they leave office.
Wilder says his white successors, like George Allen, Jim Gilmore, and Mark Warner have all had their papers completed, but his has not been finished.
“I have fallen off of the radar,” Wilder told 8News. “What do I have to do to be seen, to be heard, to be known, to be recognized as a human being.”
Sandra Treadway, the state librarian, responded to the claims Monday in an interview with 8News.
“I was stunned,” said Treadway. “Yes the papers are not finished, but I can assure you it was not because of racism. The Wilder collection is huge. It’s much larger than the two governors that had followed him. Once we get passed that we are into the electronic age.”
Wilder believes the state library agency could be delaying the processing of his papers to short the public from Virginia’s Black History.
Wilder’s grandparents were slaves and he’s been a pioneer for African Americans and equal rights in Virginia during his political career. Wilder says he was the first governor to allow women to be admitted into the Virginia Military Institute, he got rid of the Confederate flag that was once a part of the National Guard uniform, helped rid Virginia of its old state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,″ which was based on slaves, pushed for the Arthur Ashe statue sit on Monument Avenue, among several other things.
“When you consider Virginia’s history, when you consider that Virginia did elect the first person of color as governor in the country — they need to see the papers,” Wilder said.
Outraged by the news, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter on June 5 to Governor Ralph Northam’s Office requesting the papers be expedited and finished. The letter states in part:
“Too often the contributions of African Americans in the political sphere have not received the proper respect and acknowledgement and it is unfortunate that the delays regarding Governor Wilder’s records are consistent with this pattern. We believe that it is far overdue for these archives to be processed with the care and respect they deserve.”The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus
Treadway told 8News there is a backlog of processing because the agency has had six budget cuts since 2008, high turnover rates and an influx of electronic records. She also said Wilder’s papers have a lot of sensitive information that has to be vetted, which takes time.
“We still need to address this and we will be,” Treadway told 8News. “It’s not because he was African American, it’s simply because we have been overwhelmed in the last decade.”
The Library of Virginia has been closed because of the pandemic and will open Tuesday, July 7. Treadway says now that they are returning to some normalcy the plan is to take staff off of other projects to finish Wilder’s papers.
The goal is to have them completed by next year, however Wilder says he would love to see them finished by his 90th birthday in January.