If you are like me, you may have wondered how many other Black governors there have been in the U.S. before Wes Moore, and who they were. In the lead-up to Moore’s inauguration, I decided to remedy this gap in my knowledge. Here’s what I found out.
Before Wes Moore, only four Black governors had been sworn in. And only two of them were elected by voters for the state’s top political job. Who were they?
Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback stepped in as acting governor of Louisiana when Gov. Henry C. Warmoth faced impeachment charges and resigned before the end of his term. Pinchback had been serving as lieutenant governor, a position he was appointed to following the sudden death of the first Black man elected to fill that role, Oscar Dunn. More on Dunn below.
L. Douglas Wilder began his political career as Virginia’s first Black state senator elected since Reconstruction. He ran for lieutenant governor and was serving in that role when he was elected governor. He was the first Black man to be elected governor in the U.S., and later served as Richmond’s mayor.
Deval Patrick was the second Black man to be elected governor in the U.S. He governed Massachusetts for two terms, then returned to work in the private sector. Patrick made a brief bid for the presidency in early 2020.
When Eliot Spitzer resigned from the governor’s post little more than a year into his tenure, Lt. Gov. David Paterson stepped up to take Spitzer’s place. Paterson became New York’s first Black governor as well as its first blind governor. Before he was elected to be lieutenant governor, Paterson served as a New York state senator and was the first Black state Senate minority leader in New York.
Oscar Dunn was Louisiana’s first Black lieutenant governor elected to office. He and Gov. Henry C. Warmoth antagonized one another, including in July 1871 when Warmoth left the state to convalesce after foot surgery. Dunn proclaimed himself acting governor during Warmoth’s absence, but when the governor returned, Warmoth revoked Dunn’s actions. Dunn’s brief tenure is not included in many lists of Black governors of the U.S.
You may have noticed that all of the folks listed here are men. The U.S. has not yet had any Black women or nonbinary governors, although not for lack of trying. For example, during last year’s midterms, the Center for American Women and Politics counted at least 12 Black female candidates for governor.