One state official compared it to the meeting of Lee and Grant at Appomattox.
There was A.L. Philpott, the crusty Democratic speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and a former segregationist, playing host to the first black nominee of a major party for a statewide office. The candidate, Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, once accused Philpott of having a "magnolia mentality" toward blacks.
"This is a monumental day in Virginia politics," declared Jay Shropshire, clerk of the state Senate, glancing at the two Democrats who frequently have been at philosophical odds.
"I look at my two friends and feel like President Carter did when he finally reached the Camp David accord," Shropshire told the 50 political and business leaders Philpott had invited to the campaign breakfast for Wilder, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Many Virginia politicans considered it a significant event in a Democratic campaign that has been marked by private concerns of many party leaders that Wilder will be a serious liability to the Democrats in the fall election.
But today in one of the most conservative counties in the state, one of the most conservative Democrats in the legislature made a strong show of support.
"For months people speculated it would never happen," said Wilder. His closer associates said he seemed surprised when Philpott volunteered to host the breakfast.
"He's the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and he's entitled to a forum," said Philpott, whose family is regarded as an institution in a rural region where one town and a reservoir bear the Philpott name.
Philpott told reporters he felt obligated as a Democrat to show public support for Wilder, whose Republican opponent is state Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford.
Even though Philpott refused to comment on past racial controversies in which he has been involved, Shropshire confronted the issue of race head on as he introduced Wilder to the group.
He dwelled on the changes in laws and attitudes toward blacks that have allowed Wilder's son to attend the same University of Virginia law school that the elder Wilder could not attend a generation ago.
"People will shy away from it," Shropshire said of the race issue. "I'd rather meet it. Let's just don't beat around the bush and play namby-pamby."
Shropshire said today's event would substantially benefit Wilder, adding there is "no way it could hurt" Philpott, who continues to rule the 100-member House of Delegates with a firm hand.
Three years ago, Philpott enraged black legislators when he referred to them as "boys." He then was quoted as saying: "I've never had any problems with those boys. They understand the system."
Although Philpott later apologized for the remark, which he said was misunderstood, Wilder said then: "That just shows that what I call the magnolia mentality is still there."
Asked about those differences, Wilder told reporters today: "The fact that the speaker was big enough to be here . . . . We will let the past be dead."
The early morning breakfast was part of a 60-day campaign swing in which Wilder has vowed to visit every town and city in the state. His driving tour of the backroads is now entering its second week.