NEW ORLEANS -- The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. wiped away tears Tuesday after thousands of Southern Baptists unanimously elected him the first African-American president of the nation's largest Protestant group."I'm absolutely floored," Luter said at a news conference later. "This is a moment I will never forget. I thank God for the confidence Southern Baptists are putting in me."Many called it a watershed moment for the Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845 in a split with northern Baptists over slavery.Luter, 55, pastor of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said he would work hard to make sure his election is not just a symbolic act to improve the Southern Baptist image."This is a very historic moment," Luter said. "The Southern Baptist Convention was founded over slavery. And now they've elected an African-American president. We've all done things in the past that we've regretted. I've done things I've regretted."To God be the glory, for the great things he has done. God bless you," an emotional Luter said.Outgoing President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church near Atlanta, put his arm on Luter's shoulder and prayed, "We thank you for this historic moment. As we think about our beginnings and how far we've come, we thank you for Fred Luter, who will carry this mantle of leadership beginning Wednesday night."The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Arlington's Cornerstone Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation, said, "This is a major symbolic step in the right direction.""We're very excited and thankful for this major symbolic step, but it must be followed by substantial action in hiring African-Americans as entity heads. That's when real progress will be made," he said.Frank Page, a former pastor of Fort Worth's Gambrell Street Baptist Church who is now CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Luter's election was much more than symbolic. It's a sign, he said, that Baptists are moving ahead with real diversity."I can't think of a Baptist seminary that doesn't have an African-American professor," he said. There are 10,000 Southern Baptist churches whose members are predominantly ethnic minorities, he said.Page said he is working with African-American, Hispanic and Asian advisory groups to "deepen their involvement in every aspect of Southern Baptist life."The Rev. Terry Turner, an African-American pastor from Mesquite who is president of the Southern Baptists of Texas, one of two Baptist state conventions, said Luter's election was a "great step" many had long awaited."Any time you have ethnics in leadership, it changes the face of the denomination," he said.Luter said that in the last 25 years he has seen the denomination purposely work to eliminate its racist image, including an action at its 1995 national convention apologizing for its racist heritage.The new president said he realized that some were skeptical of whether Baptists have really turned a corner on racism."I've heard people say, 'Maybe Southern Baptists want to put up this African-American as president so they could get this racist thing and history of slavery off their backs,'" Luter said."If they stop appointing African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics to leadership roles after my time is over, then we've failed. I'm going to do all I can to make sure this is not just a one-and-done situation."Luter was nominated by one of his close friends, the Rev. David Crosby, pastor of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans."You have a chance to make history," Crosby told the messengers -- those attending the convention who can vote. He called Luter "a native New Orleanean who would likely be a candidate for sainthood he were a Catholic ... a fire-breathing, miracle-working pastor shaking this city with the Gospel."Crosby described how Luter had rebuilt the Franklin Avenue church twice. He first took over as pastor of the church in 1986 when it was a predominantly white congregation with a dwindling membership. "He built it from 65 members to 8,000 members," Crosby said.The second time, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the church building and scattered its membership.Luter ministered to hurricane refugees in Houston and other areas before returning to help reorganize the Franklin Avenue church. Now it has 5,000 members and has bought property to build a larger church.Crosby said that for him the best thing to come out of Katrina was working with Luter for 21/2 years when Crosby's congregation shared its building with members of Franklin Avenue.Name option voted onAlso Tuesday, delegates voted on a proposed optional alternative name, Great Commission Baptists. The vote, by a show of hands, was too close to call, so paper ballots were cast. The result will be announced today, The Associated Press reported.Wright formed a study committee last year to consider a change. The committee recommended that a full and official name change would be too difficult and expensive, but it suggested the alternative name as an option.But the alternative name faces strong opposition, including from some members who are proud of the denomination's association with conservative theology and politics.The "Great Commission" refers to Matthew 28:16-20, in which Jesus instructs his disciples at Galilee to go forth and make disciples of all nations.The notion of changing the Southern Baptist name is not new: It was first proposed in 1903 and has been brought up more than a dozen times since. Even if the compromise alternative is approved, it may not put the issue to rest.This article includes material from The Associated Press.