L. Douglas Wilder, who defied the odds to become Virginia's first black lieutenant governor in 1985, instantly catapulted himself onto the national political scene by winning a razor-thin victory Tuesday as America's first black elected governor, which faces an almost certain recount.
The national media focused on his campaign against Republican Marshall Coleman because of the racial aspect, but analysts suggested it was the divisive issue of abortion that decided the contest.
One pundit could not use enough superlatives when it came to describing the consequences of a Wilder win earlier in the race.
'He'll be instant celebrity, walking history, powerful myth,' said University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato.
Wilder, divorced and the father of three grown children, will be 'a hot property,' Senate Clerk Jay Shropshire, a long-time friend and confidant of the governor-elect, said.
Wilder, who received campaign contributions from celebrities like Bill Cosby and Barbara Streisand and black syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, was followed by reporters representing news organizations from all over the world.
He appeared in People magazine, and network morning television programs shows fought to get him for their shows the day after the election.
His victory will give Democrats a counterweight to the liberal Rev. Jesse Jackson and Wilder has indicated he would relish such a role.
The grandson of slaves, Wilder's defeat of John Chichester in 1985 was reported nationwide. No black man had ever sought, much less achieved, the nomination and backing of the Virginia Democratic Party in the 20th century.
Wilder, 58, the youngest of eight children and named for black leader Frederick Douglass and poet Lawrence Dunbar, grew up in the poor Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond.
To work his way through college he waited on tables in hotel banquet rooms, pouring coffee for well-to-do white men who sometimes made racial jokes in the presence of black waiters and busboys.
He entered Virginia Union in 1947 and interrupted his studies toward a degree in chemistry with a stint in the Korean War, where he distinguished himself in combat and earned a Bronze Star.
After his graduation, he went on to Howard University Law School where he roomed with Henry Marsh, a fellow Richmonder who would go on to become mayor of Richmond and publicly clash with Wilder on several occasions.
He gradually built a successful practice as a defense lawyer and invested in real estate. His office is still in Church Hill, but Wilder, a millionaire, lives in a spacious home in a well-to-do section and owns a pair of Mercedes-Benz automobiles.
During the campaign Wilder occasionally referred to his humble beginnings, saying it was 'a long way' from Church Hill to the hill where the State Capitol sits.
In a rare instance when he broached the subject of race, he once reminded students at predominantly black Virginia State University about Virginia's role as a leader of massive resistance to integration.
'Isn't this the same place that said that education was for some, not for all? Isn't this the same place that said that guy couldn't even go to a law school in his own state? Isn't this the same place that said separate but equal was the law?' asked Wilder, who could not attend the University of Virginia Law School because of his color.
Wilder was elected by Richmonders to the Senate in 1969 -- becoming the first black lawmaker to serve in the chamber since Reconstruction - and served uninterrupted until his election to lieutenant governor.
He established himself as a maverick legislator, leading efforts to oppose the state song because of lyrics offensive to blacks and to establish a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.
In anticipation of his first statewide bid he staked out conservative views on some issues, such as favoring the death penalty, while holding a liberal Senate voting record.