Fred Luter
Fred Luter (far right), a pastor at New Orleans' Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, is slated to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Photo: Luter dining with President George W. Bush in October 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.) REUTERS

The Southern Baptist Convention, a predominantly white denomination, is set to elect its first black president, Rev. Fred Luter Jr. of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La.

The election marks a historic moment for the Southern Baptist Convention, a Tennessee-based organization formed in 1845 over divisions with the northern church over slavery in the U.S.

Luter, a self-described Lower Ninth Ward street preacher who serves more than 4,000 worshippers, currently holds No. 2 spot in the church as first vice president; his name was put forward last month as a candidate for the top post.

For Southern Baptists to elect Fred Luter heralds a new era of inclusion -- of working together in our diversity, David E. Crosby, a pastor in New Orleans who nominated Luter, told the Baptist Press in February. It is a statement that people of all ethnic groups make up the Southern Baptist Convention and are honored.

A defender of slave owners and opponent of civil rights, the Southern Baptist Convention has since tried to make amends for its racist past. In 1995, the Protestant denomination officially apologized to African Americans for a history of discrimination and rejecting black congregants.