Maryland Gets its First Black Governor. What Does That Mean for the Black Community?

Watching a Black man become the highest-ranked elected official in Maryland is not just an example to the state’s residents but to the whole nation.

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Credit: James Fields/The AFRO

By Megan Sayles, Afro News

In our country’s 246-year history, we’ve had just three elected Black governors. The first came in 1990, more than a century after Black people were granted citizenship and Black men were formally given the right to vote.

Lawrence Douglas Wilder was elected as Virginia’s 66th governor after serving as lieutenant governor and the state’s first African-American senator since the Reconstruction era.

Deval Patrick came next— nearly 20 years later— and was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2007. The third, David Paterson, rose to the post in New York in 2008 after a prostitution scandal led Governor Eliot Spitzer to resign from his position.

This election season, we’ve witnessed Black people make history in Congress and state governments.

We know that representation matters. It can empower and embolden an entire body of people.

Raphael Warnock defeated Republican opponent Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election, giving Democrats a 51-seat majority in the Senate. Summer Lee became the first Black woman elected to Congress in Pennsylvania, and Andrea Campbell became Massachusetts’ first Black woman attorney general.

In Maryland, voters elected combat veteran and Takoma-Park native Wes Moore to succeed Governor Larry Hogan and become the state’s first Black governor.

The 2020 U.S. Census revealed that Maryland’s Black population is one of the highest in the nation, with over 30 percent of residents identifying as African American.

We know that representation matters. It can empower and embolden an entire body of people.

Watching a Black man become the highest-ranked elected official in Maryland is not just an example to the state’s residents but to the whole nation.

In short, Moore’s feat was a long-time coming, but how will it influence the state’s Black community? And more importantly, what do African Americans want to see during his term?

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to witness such a historic moment for our state,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. “Baltimore has obviously had Black men and women break the glass ceiling, but it speaks volumes that a man and woman of color were able to win a statewide election. It shows that a majority of Marylanders place a higher priority on competence and compassion than on color or ethnicity.”

Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who represents Maryland’s 7th district, thinks Moore’s election signifies progress in American politics and around the globe.

He also revealed that the real history of Black governorship dates back to the late 1800s in Louisiana when Oscar Dunn took over for Henry Clay Warmoth while he was injured and when Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback assumed the role for Warmoth after he was suspended from office during an impeachment proceeding.

Mfume said there are no guarantees that a governor will advantage African-American communities no matter who is in office. Their performance can only be measured once they’ve held the position.

But, he thinks Moore’s ascension has rightfully spurred an abundance of hope in Black Marylanders, exemplifying the capacity and power of Black excellence, and he assumes the election will have a long-standing effect on Black youth.

See, we can do this.

CONGRESSMAN KWEISI MFUME

He believes the impact will even spread to non-Black communities, normalizing the notion of Black people in positions of power.

“When you look at the effect beyond the Black community, I think that’s where the instructional part of this takes place because, for kids who may be of any other race in middle school and high school, it says to them: ‘See, we can do this. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just like any other election,’” said Mfume. “It becomes a normal sort of thing.”

Moore’s education plan aspires to provide world-class public schooling to all of the state’s children. In it, he plans to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline, invest in 21st Century Schools, increase funding for afterschool programs, expand access to career and technical education programs and prioritize students’ social and emotional well-being.

Mfume is looking forward to witnessing Moore’s moves to ameliorate Maryland’s education system, which he said has been a burning desire for the governor-elect. He’s confident that Moore will leave the state with a better system than he inherited.

Mfume is also hopeful that Moore’s crime plan, which includes investing in demonstrated community-based violence intervention programs and strengthening the relationship between communities and law enforcement, will cultivate a safer environment for all Maryland residents.

I supported him, and he won, so I’m elated.

BALTIMORE SMALL BUSINESS OWNER KELLY SIMMONS

Baltimore small business owner Kelly Simmons thinks Moore is suited to understand the needs of young Black Marylanders.

Before his election, he visited her shop, Aunt Kelly’s Cookies, in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. The business sits on a block known as Antique Row, which is virtually empty today, according to Simmons.

“I really do appreciate the fact that he came to small business people. I’m about as small as they come, and he took the time to stop through and ask about my concerns,” said Simmons. “I voiced them to him, I supported him, and he won, so I’m elated.”

She wants Moore to rework Maryland’s tax system for small businesses, changing the way they are collected and the way owners are notified about them. Simmons also hopes the governor-elect can change the way outsiders view Baltimore.

The city is more often than not known and criticized for its crime, but Simmons thinks Moore can shine a light on its positive attributes and booming businesses.

The Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, which serves Black-owned businesses in the city, Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties, believes Moore could have the political muscle to address public transportation challenges, poverty, and health disparities that plague Maryland’s Black communities.

Debra Keller-Greene, the chairperson of the chamber’s board of directors, said Moore could also better understand the need for improvements to the state’s procurement systems. She wants him to hold prime contractors accountable for their subcontracting processes with Black-owned and minority-owned businesses.

Moore’s historic inauguration ceremony is set for Jan. 18 and will be held in Annapolis, Maryland’s capital. There he will be joined by his wife, Dawn, and two children, Mia and James.

Throughout his gubernatorial journey, his mantra has been: “Leave no one behind.” Maryland’s Black community is hopeful he’ll live up to it.