Virginia's First Black Governor Slams McAuliffe for Marginalizing Black Candidates

Douglas Wilder says fellow Democrat also dismissed blackface scandals

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: Former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder (L) and Massachusetts Governor Patrick Deval participate in a discussion about civil rights during the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's luncheon to commemorate the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision at the National Press Club May 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Wilder was the first black governor in the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
July 7, 2021

Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder accused fellow Democrat Terry McAuliffe of blocking black candidates in the state's June primary and criticized the gubernatorial nominee for standing by a pair of political allies who wore blackface.

Wilder—who became the nation's first elected African-American governor in 1989—blasted McAuliffe for campaigning with Gov. Ralph Northam and attorney general Mark Herring during a Friday radio interview. In 2019, both Virginia Democrats admitted to wearing blackface while in college, and McAuliffe quickly called for Northam's resignation. Just two years later, however, McAuliffe said he was "honored" to have Northam's endorsement for his gubernatorial campaign and has praised Herring's leadership on the campaign trail. Wilder said the about-face sends the wrong message to residents.

"The people of Virginia have not forgotten. They are not stupid. They are not fooled, they are not being hoodwinked," Wilder said. "Terry … you said [Northam] was in blackface. He's got to go. Have you changed your mind about any of this? And if not, then why not? Now, explain to the people of the commonwealth."

Wilder is not the first black Virginia Democrat to criticize McAuliffe on race issues. Primary opponent and former state lawmaker Jennifer Carroll Foy seemingly accused McAuliffe of viewing all black people as "convicted felons" during a June debate. McAuliffe beat out Carroll Foy, as well as two other black candidates, to win the nomination in June. Wilder questioned why the former governor did not support a black Democrat instead of running for a second term, noting that "many of the problems we speak of were occurring when Mr. McAuliffe was governor."

"I don't think that's explainable yet now, why Terry McAuliffe couldn't support at least one of the people who were running for governor—black women," Wilder said. "He couldn't support a single one of those persons, because of what? I don't know. But it just so happens that all of them [are] black."

Wilder, who endorsed McAuliffe for governor in 2013, followed up his interview with a Tuesday Facebook post in which he further chastised McAuliffe over the blackface controversies. He also accused McAuliffe of believing that his black primary opponents were "not qualified to be given the chance that he had been given."

"Is what Northam and Herring did...alright by any standard?" Wilder wrote. "Or does this suggest that if you're a black person in Virginia, if you've got to think about who you are going to vote for then 'you ain't black,'" he concluded, referencing President Joe Biden's infamous 2020 quote about black voters and the Democratic Party.

McAuliffe is set to face Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin in November. Herring, meanwhile, is running for his third term as attorney general. While Virginia has trended blue in recent years, Wilder argued that Democrats' partisan affiliation alone will not be enough to lift them to victory.

"I can tell you that it's going to be an election that's not going to be decided by which party you belong to," Wilder said Friday. "It's an election that's going to be decided by who best resonates with the people of Virginia—all of the people of Virginia."