When the Southern Baptist Convention originally broke away from the main Baptist church, it was over its support for slavery. So it'll be a pretty big deal when Rev. Fred Luter Jr. becomes its president next week. If delegates vote as expected, the charismatic New Orleans preacher will become the convention's first black leader, capping off an effort in recent years to embrace diversity, the AP reports. "They got a space for Fred, right there," says a black pastor perusing a wall of portraits of the SBC's 56 past presidents. "Got a space picked out for him."
Luter grew up in the Lower 9th Ward, and turned to religion after surviving a motorcycle accident at age 21. He started out preaching on street corners with friends. "We had no training," he says. "We were just really excited about what God was doing in our lives." Nine years later, someone suggested he apply to be the pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, a formerly white church that had become predominantly black. Today, it's the best-attended Southern Baptist church in Louisiana.