Built in 1813, the Governor’s Mansion is the oldest in continuous use. In November 8, 1989, Richmonder Douglas Wilder became the first African American governor of Virginia and the first African-American governor of any state since Reconstruction. But, let us take a step back to examine the period commonly referred to as Jim Crow. In 1896 the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, gave legal sanction to the principle of "separate but equal." Segregation prevailed throughout the South as blacks had to ride or stand at the back of streetcars, buses, and trains. They were not allowed in hotels or restaurants that served whites only. Blacks had to set in separate sections of theatres and libraries and even use separate restrooms and water fountains. Even black blood was kept separate from white at medical facilities. Black students attended separate schools and black servicemen served in segregated units. One small victory came in 1898. With the outbreak of the Spanish American War, militia units volunteered to serve. Among them was Richmond’s First Battalion, an all black unit. Although white Virginians protested the commissioning of black officers, Virginia’s governor, James Hoge Tyler (a former Confederate) decided that it would be a violation of the 14th Amendment not to do so.
However, 1901–1902 Constitutional Convention undid the small advances made during Reconstruction by basically voiding the Fifteenth Amendment through poll taxes and literacy requirements. In 1935, Charles Hamilton Houston was appointed as the first Special Counsel of the NAACP. Houston, often called the “Moses of the civil rights movement” devised a strategy to end segregation by filing lawsuits demanding “equalization of facilities”—especially those for students, knowing the government would not be able to maintain two separate but fully equal school systems. This strategy was continued by his student and protégée and student Thurgood Marshall, who in 1946 won Morgan v. Virginia a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law that enforced segregation on buses and trains that were interstate carriers. In 1948, Marshall won a case which ended the enforcement of racially restrictive covenants, a practice that barred black people from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods.
The mission of The American Civil War Museum is to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.