RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - For the grandson of slaves, who rose to become the country's first African-American governor, L. Douglas Wilder remembers those who are still forgotten in the fringes of society, as he sees a country caught in crisis. Once unthinkable shootings, now revealing deep scars of racial divisions.
"We need to refocus our efforts, helping those in the shadows," Wilder said in an interview Friday. "We need to close a gap, that has contributed to this violence."
Wilder already belongs to the pages of history. And for the former governor, making sense of the shootings in Dallas, suburban St. Paul and Baton Rouge requires delving deep into decades of what he describes as failed leadership, now 50 years in the making.
"We have more representation for the African-American community in this country's history, ever," Wilder remarked. "But it's not necessarily representing the people - the ones who need our help the most."
Wilder describes a disconnect, a widening gap between elected officials and the people who live in the neglected communities across the country. The former governor also believes political priorities have not addressed the need to conquer urban blight, and grow opportunities for all.
When the divide is in place for too long, Wilder sees mistrust, anger, and even chaos, taking root.
"We can't allow this gap to widen," Wilder stressed. "It is widening, I feel it when I see and speak with people every day across our city, across our country."
Wilder cites a critical turning point – during the height of the Civil Rights Movement – as a missed opportunity that may explain factors of the unfolding discord in a new century.
President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a study known as the Kerner Report, which famously warned, "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal."
The report recommended a diversification of police forces, and spending billions to demolish city slums. But the findings were largely left in the pages of the report, unpursued – a moment Wilder said, that provided a mistake still felt today.
"It faded, gone! Why? It's far more important for us to deal with the enemy within," remarked Wilder. "And what is that enemy within? Race, dividing our nation."
Wilder also dismissed the notion of activists classifying movements in short slogans, from "Black Lives Matter" to "All Lives Matter."
"Simplistic solutions and slogans never resolve problems. And they're not worthy of debate."
But among his criticism, there is optimism.
"It's not despair time," he said. "We're not considered the greatest nation in the world because of our geography. It's because of our thinking. Because of our abilities, our opportunities, to make things better for the world. For mankind."
"But why don't we do that here, first?"
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