The Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, who served as pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, NY for 33 years has passed away, reports NPR. He was 73.
Calvin O. Butts IV confirmed that the cause of his father's passing was pancreatic cancer.
Obrey M. Hendricks, author of Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith and Visiting Scholar at Columbia Univerisity, described Butts as a modern “prophetic leader.”
“His was a holistic ministry. Few have balanced the roles of pastor and prophet as effectively as Calvin Butts. As a pastor, he wholeheartedly strived to address the on-the-ground needs of the community, such as homelessness, hopelessness, and poverty,” he said. “As a prophet, he adroitly navigated the corridors of political power to press for more just and equitable policies and practices to benefit all people. At times balancing these roles forced him to take unpopular positions, but like the prophets of old he pressed on, never betraying the principles that drove him.”
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on July 19, 1949, Butts relocated to Queens, New York with his family as a child.
After graduating as president of his senior class at Flushing High School in Queens, NY, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Morehouse College. Although he intended to study to teach philosophy, he was recruited to Union Theological Seminary in New York where he would earn a Master of Divinity in Church History. He also graduated from Drew University with a Doctor of Ministry in church and public policy.
As a 22-year-old seminarian, Butts was hired by Abyssinian as a ministerial assistant to Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor who recently succeeded 11-time Congressman Adam Clayton Powell as pastor of the influential church. Butts recalled being invited to the pulpit by Proctor a week after being hired and said, “I’ve been there ever since.”
In 1989, the same year he became pastor of Abyssinian, Butts founded the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC) which has raised $1 billion for residential housing and commercial development in Harlem. The corporation built the first high school in Harlem in half a century and several of the first national retail chain stores in the area. The ADC also oversaw the construction of one of Harlem's first new full-service supermarkets, a department store, a shopping center. It also built over 1,100 rental units for low-income residents.
From 1999 to 2020, Butts served as the president of the State University of New York College of Old Westbury on Long Island, NY. During his successful tenure, the college became nationally accredited, launched its first graduate programs and expanded its campus.
From 1998 to 2008, Butts also served as president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York. He also was the chairman of the Harlem Y.M.C.A.; the president of Africare NYC, which sought to improve life in rural Africa; and a member of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
Over the course of his long-standing career in public service, he received honorary degrees from several colleges, including the City College of New York, Claflin College, Dillard University, Hartwick College, Muhlenberg College, Trinity College, Fordham University and Tuskegee University.
As a clergyperson, community developer, educator and advocate for Black people, Butts leaves behind a legacy of excellent service.
In addition to his son Calvin, Butts is survived by his wife, Patricia Reed Butts, the founder and president emeritus of the Abyssinian Baptist Church Health Ministry; another son, Alexander; a daughter, Patricia Jean Butts; and six grandchildren.
We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III.