My Governor Is Black

Sam McKenzie Jr.
11 min readJan 30, 2023

“Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were dismissed by some of his critics as merely symbolic for African Americans. But there is nothing “mere” about symbols. The power embedded in the word nigger is also symbolic. Burning crosses do not literally raise the black poverty rate, and the Confederate flag does not directly expand the wealth gap.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, My President Was Black

Back in September of last year, I interviewed for a position in state government under the Hogan administration. When I made my way to the waiting area, I looked up and saw a picture of the then-current Governor Larry Hogan, and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford.

As I stood there looking at his photo in a state building, I wondered if I could work in his administration given my political views. As you would expect, Hogan’s photo was slightly higher up, and Rutherford’s was beneath Hogan’s.

We’ve seen that same photo arrangement a few times in Maryland’s history — a white governor and a Black lieutenant governor. We saw it with Ehrlich and Steele, and we saw it with O’Malley and Brown. It’s been a winning combo for Democrats and Republicans alike in Maryland.

That photo arrangement is also a picture of a racist and gendered hierarchy in Maryland.

With the election of Wes Moore, Maryland’s first Black governor, voters break ranks with part of that pattern. Today, a Black man’s photo is first and slightly higher. I imagine the spirits of many Black voters are slightly higher today too, and rightfully so.

In his essay, “My President Was Black,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about a “cool” Obama who, despite his faults, defied gravity and gave many Black people a little bit of a lift spiritually even as we held our breath. Black Marylanders, like me, may feel the same.

The new photos of Governor Wes Moore and Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller in state buildings are more than symbolic for us in Maryland. It’s a brand new day. Now, a Black man, born in 1978, like me, is at the helm of the state.

In Maryland, state power at the highest level is in Black hands and those Black hands are from my generation.