Rev. Calvin Butts, influential pillar of Harlem, dies at 73

Rev. Calvin Butts, influential pillar of Harlem, dies at 73

The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who fought poverty and racism and assuredly navigated New York’s energy construction as pastor of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, died Friday at age 73, the church introduced.

“The Butts Household and whole Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers for us in our bereavement,” the church stated on its web site. No reason behind demise was given.

Butts started serving as a youth minister at Abyssinian in 1972 and was senior pastor there for greater than 30 years. He additionally served as president of the State College of New York at Previous Westbury, on Lengthy Island, from 1999 to 2020.

His publish at Abyssinian gave Butts one of the vital distinguished pulpits within the U.S. The church traces its roots to 1808 when a gaggle of Black worshippers who refused to simply accept segregation on the First Baptist Church of New York Metropolis left to type their very own congregation. The church’s present house on 138th Avenue in Harlem is a large Tudor and Gothic revival construction devoted in 1923 and designated a metropolis landmark in 1993.

Earlier pastors at Abyssinian included Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and his son Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the primary African American to be elected to Congress from New York.

Butts was recognized for working with political leaders throughout the ideological spectrum.

Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts had endorsed Hillary Clinton throughout her time campaigning for president in 2008.Elise Amendola/AP

In 1995, Republican Gov. George Pataki appointed Butts to 2 state boards that managed financial improvement grants to companies. That very same 12 months, Butts hosted then-Cuban chief Fidel Castro at Abyssinian, the place the fatigues-wearing communist obtained a hero’s welcome.

Butts shocked many by endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama within the 2008 Democratic presidential main, saying the endorsement “was not and isn’t and won’t turn into a race-based choice for me.” Butts later stated he was “overjoyed” when Obama was elected as the primary Black president of the USA that November.

Butts’ influence prolonged far past his church’s partitions. In 1989, he established the nonprofit Abyssinian Growth Corp. to develop moderate-income housing, retail, colleges and different tasks within the surrounding neighborhood.

Butts helped mobilize church leaders to assist packages for AIDS sufferers within the Eighties and extra just lately arrange a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Abyssinian to encourage group residents to get immunized towards the virus.

“The sort of conspiracies we noticed up to now had been actual however they don’t exist about these vaccines,” Butts stated final 12 months in a reference to the racist historical past of episodes just like the Tuskegee syphilis examine that left many Black folks mistrustful of medical authorities.

Butts courted controversy within the Nineties by preaching towards violent and misogynist rap lyrics. He had parishioners carry recordings of the offensive music to church to be steamrolled in June 1993 however then ended up dumping the CDs in entrance of a Sony workplace in midtown Manhattan as a substitute of smashing them.

Butts addressed a congregation forward of a speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1995. Bebeto Matthews/AP

“Rap is a particularly highly effective artwork type,” Butts stated at a debate with rapper Ice-T. “It comes from the creativity of African folks. And something that comes from our creativity is highly effective, and it grabs. And due to this fact we need to make it possible for because it grabs it additionally shapes in a constructive and redemptive method our younger folks to proceed our progress towards the evils that attempt to crush us.”

Tributes to Butts poured in Friday.

“He was a dominant religion and tutorial chief for many years,” the Rev. Al Sharpton stated in an announcement. “We knew one another for greater than 40 years, and whereas we didn’t all the time agree we all the time got here again collectively.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul referred to as Butts “a drive for ethical readability, a voice for his Harlem group, a counselor to so many people in public service” and stated she was proud to name him a buddy.

The person Hochul succeeded final 12 months, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referred to as Butts “a person of substance and of values to whom the time period ‘public service’ doesn’t start to explain the influence he had on this metropolis and this state.”

Butts welcomed worshippers and political leaders worldwide at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Richard Drew/AP

Butts was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up within the New York Metropolis borough of Queens. He graduated from Morehouse School in Atlanta, then returned to the New York space and earned a grasp’s diploma from Union Theological Seminary and a physician of ministry diploma from Drew College. He started his ministry at Abyssinian whereas in graduate faculty.

Like different church buildings, Abyssinian was pressured to go online-only within the first months of the coronavirus pandemic after which progressively reopened.

The church hosted a personal memorial service for the pioneering Black actor Cicely Tyson final 12 months, with Invoice and Hillary Clinton and Tyler Perry in attendance. Butts praised Tyson for example of “an instance of how all of us may stay.”

Butts’ survivors embody his spouse, Patricia, three kids and 6 grandchildren.

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