Wilder claims racism in state library lag in processing his gubernatorial papers

Free Press wire reports | 7/9/2020, 6 p.m.
Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is accusing the state library of racism for its slow pace in processing and publicly …
Gov. Wilder

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is accusing the state library of racism for its slow pace in processing and publicly presenting records from his tenure as the nation’s first elected African-American governor.

Gov. Wilder, 89, told a local daily publication on July 3 that he doesn’t understand why the Library of Virginia has been processing papers from his gubernatorial successors before finishing work on his.

“Why isn’t it racism?” Gov. Wilder asked.

Gov. Wilder, the grandson of slaves, took office 30 years ago, serving as Virginia’s governor from 1990 to 1994. Before that, he served as a member of the state Senate from 1970 to 1986 when he held the office of lieutenant governor for four years until winning the historic election for governor in November 1989. He later served as Richmond’s mayor from 2005 to 2009.

State Librarian Sandra Gioia Treadway acknowledged that the processing of Gov. Wilder’s records had “fallen off the radar,” a lapse that she attributed to budget cuts and turnover in key positions, including the state archivist.

“This is devastating for me, but we are addressing it,” Ms. Treadway said.

All of Gov. Wilder’s predecessors and successors in the governor’s office are Caucasian. The library has finished work on the collections of his successors, former Govs. George Allen, Jim Gilmore and Mark R. Warner. Former Gov. Tim Kaine’s collection remains a work in progress.

Ms. Treadway said she didn’t know how few of Gov. Wilder’s papers had been processed and made public until Gov. Wilder’s son, Larry, contacted her earlier this year.

“This is something. Now that I know about it, it’s going to be a top priority,” she said.

Gov. Wilder’s papers from his terms as governor and as the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor can’t be made public until they are sorted, analyzed, indexed and reviewed for exceptions under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, according to Ms. Treadway.

Gov. Wilder’s assistant, Angelica Bega, called it “alarming” that the former governor’s archives “remain unavailable for any educational purpose after 30 years.”

“The neglect and obfuscation conveys the handling of his administration’s gubernatorial papers to be current examples of racism and does not reflect well on the state of Virginia,” Ms. Bega wrote in an email last week to State Archivist Michael Strom.

Gov. Wilder said he decided to publicize the dispute because he thought “the taxpayers of Virginia need to know this.”

“There’s no excuse,” he said.