Lt. Gov. Douglas Wilder, who grew up in the segregated Old South, launched an election bid Thursday that could earn him a place in history as the country's first elected black governor.

"Forty years ago, working my way through college and law school as a waiter and busboy I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to run for governor of Virginia," Wilder, 58, told a a cheering crowd of 200 packed into the Richmond Centre arena as he formally announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination.Four years ago, Wilder stunned political analysts when he won the lieutenant governorship and became the country's highest-ranking state black official. At his announcement Thursday, he was flanked by the two other members of that winning statewide team, Gov. Gerald Baliles and Attorney General Mary Sue Terry.

Wilder, standing in front of a bright blue-and-white banner proclaiming "Wilder for Governor," told his supporters he planned to "forge a new Virginia partnership" that included providing permanent tax relief, escalating the war on drugs and creating jobs and housing for rural Virginians.