This Day in History: November 7th

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African American politicians, David Dinkins and L. Douglas Wilder made history in politics on this day in 1989. Former Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins was elected New York City’s mayor and Lawrence Douglas Wilder became the first elected African American governor in the United States since Reconstruction.

Wilder, a Democrat, became the first African American since Reconstruction to win a seat in the Virginia Senate. Prior to him, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (P.B.S) served as acting governor of Louisiana in 1872. Unlike Wilder who served in the Virginia State Senate from 1990 to 1994, Pinchback only held his position for 34 days.

Before entering politics, Wilder fought in the Korean War and earned the Bronze Star before going on to study law at Howard University. He returned to Richmond to practice law and eventually established the law firm of Wilder, Gregory & Associates. It was one of the few minority-owned businesses in Virginia and soon became known as a top criminal attorney.

Wilder had a considerable amount of success in politics, holding several official offices in Virginia. He started his political career as a State Senator where he served five terms and became a lieutenant governor. Following a hiatus, Wilder became the mayor of Richmond in 2004 but did not seek reelection in 2008.

Like Wilder, New Jersey native, David Dinkins, made history in politics when he defeated the three-term incumbent Mayor, Ed Koch in the Democratic primary and beat Rudy Giuliani in the general election. Dinkins held the position from 1990 through 1994 and was the first and currently the only African American to hold that office.

Dinkins served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II and got his political foundation working with the Democratic Party organization in Harlem. He ran for Manhattan Borough President three times before winning in 1985. When entering the office, Dinkins pledged racial healing for New York’s diverse communities.

While in office he was not able to successfully expand his reach with constituents and he was also hurt by the perception that the crime rate was rising even though it was later shown that rates had begun to decline during his tenure. In 1993, Mayor Dinkins ran against Giuliani for the second time but Guiliani won.

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