Fred Luter Jr., the first African American First Vice President and President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), was born on November 11, 1956. Luter and his four siblings were raised in New Orleans, Louisiana’s Lower 9th Ward by his mother, Viola Brooks, who worked as a seamstress and a surgical scrub assistant.
Luter began his road to becoming Southern Baptist Convention’s president in 1977 with a motorcycle crash at age 21. He had a compound fracture in his left leg and a serious head injury. The experience led Luter to commit himself to God. He began preaching on Saturdays at the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue in the Lower 9th Ward while also working as a commodities clerk. Armed with his “half-mile hailer” megaphone, Luter developed his fast-talking, easygoing style as a way of catching the attention of passersby.
Luter preached his first church sermon at the Law Street Baptist Church in the 7th Ward. Luter was preaching regularly at Greater Liberty Baptist Church when he received his appointment from Franklin Avenue Baptist Church which was a rare all-black Southern Baptist Convention church in New Orleans. Franklin Avenue Baptist was looking for a new pastor because they had been struggling for membership. Luter was ordained and installed as pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in October 1986 with a congregation of 65 members.
Luter grew Franklin Avenue Baptist Church to over 300 members by 1989. His wife, Elizabeth Luter, led the women’s ministry. By 1994 Luter was so successful that Franklin Avenue Baptist began plans to build a larger church. In 1995, Luter helped draft a resolution at the 150th annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting that committed the congregations to eradicating racism and repudiating slavery. This was a significant change in policy since the SBC had originally formed in 1845 when it split with its northern counterpart over the issue of slavery. In 2001, Luter was the first African American to deliver the keynote sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting.
By 2005 Franklin Avenue Baptist Church was one of Louisiana’s largest churches with over 7,000 members. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the church in more than eight feet of water and scattered the congregation across the United States. Franklin Avenue Baptist Churches popped up across the country as Luter traveled across the United States to locate his members and preach to them. Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans reopened in a new building on April 6, 2008.
In 2011 Luter was named the first Vice President of Southern Baptist Convention. On June 19, 2012, he became Southern Baptist Convention’s first African American President.
Fred Jr. and Elizabeth Luter have been married for 32 years. They have two children: Fred “Chip” Luter III, a pastor, and Kimberly Luter.