RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is accusing the state’s library agency of racism for its slow pace in processing and publicly presenting records from his tenure as the nation’s first elected Black governor.
Wilder, 89, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday 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?” Wilder asked.
State Librarian Sandra Gioia Treadway acknowledged that the processing of 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,” Treadway said Friday.
Wilder, a grandson of slaves, served as Virginia’s governor from 1990 to 1994. He later served a term as Richmond’s mayor.
All of Wilder’s successors in the governor’s office have been white. The library agency has finished work on the collections of former Govs. George Allen, Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner. Former Gov. Tim Kaine’s remains a work in progress.
Treadway said she didn’t know how few of Wilder’s papers had been processed and made public until 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.
Wilder’s papers from his terms as governor and as the state’s first Black lieutenant governor can’t be made public until it is sorted, analyzed, indexed and reviewed for exceptions under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, according to Treadway.
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,” Bega wrote in an email Friday to State Archivist Michael Strom.
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.
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