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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Former Gov. Douglas Wilder Is Keynote Speaker for ODU’s Black History Month Celebrations

L. Douglas Wilder, who became the first African American governor in the history of the United States when he was elected governor of Virginia in 1989, will deliver the keynote address for Black History Month at Old Dominion University.

Wilder, a pioneering champion of human rights who was recognized nationally for his common sense management of Virginia as governor, will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17, in the North Café of Webb University Center.

The program is free and open to the public. It is the signature event of a full Black History Month calendar organized by ODU's Office of Intercultural Relations.

This year's national theme for Black History Month is Civil Rights in America, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Right Act. But the idea of a period of time set aside in February to celebrate African American history, culture and struggle is another 40 years older than that.

The event that would become Black History Month was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Wilder signifies the struggle for civil rights by minorities in the United States. When elected a state senator in Virginia in 1969, he became the first African American elected to that body since the end of Reconstruction.

By the time he began his 1985 campaign to become lieutenant governor, Wilder was among the most powerful legislators in the state. He won the election, despite many pundits predicting that Virginia was not ready to elect a black statewide official, making him the highest-elected African American official in the country at that time.

Four years later, Wilder again defied the odds. He was elected as the state's 66th governor, and during his tenure Virginia was twice recognized as the best-managed state in the U.S.

In addition to Wilder's address, a diverse roster of events is planned on the ODU campus to celebrate Black History Month throughout the month of February.

For information about Black History Month at ODU, and other programming of the Office of Intercultural Relations, see: http://www.odu.edu/oir, email oir@odu.edu or call 683-4406.