Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts: Longtime Harlem pastor and prominent political and social activist dies

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Friday, October 28, 2022
Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, beloved Harlem pastor, dies
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Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, the longtime politically and socially active pastor of Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church has died. Anthony Johnson has the story.

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, the longtime politically and socially active pastor of Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church has died, the church announced Friday.

The church did not release a cause of death, but several officials indicated Butts was battling cancer.

Mayor Eric Adams ordered all flags on all city buildings, as well as stationary flagstaffs throughout the five boroughs, to be lowered to half-staff, beginning at sunrise Saturday "as a mark of respect for the memory of Reverend Butts."

Rev. Butts was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in July of 1949 and joined Abyssinian as a youth minister in 1972 where he led the Harlem church as pastor for decades, becoming a trusted council of politicians and the public alike as its senior pastor.

He was also President Emeritus of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and served in the Fordham University Graduate School of Education as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division.

He worked with political leaders across the ideological spectrum.

In 1995, Republican Gov. George Pataki appointed Butts to two state boards that controlled economic development grants to businesses. That same year, Butts hosted then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro at Abyssinian, where the fatigues-wearing communist received a hero's welcome.

In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, he guided a crowd at Yankee Stadium as they mourned for those lost.

"This memorial service is for you and I hope that at this time you will take the hand of the one who is sitting on either side of you. You may know them, you may not," Butts said.

He was dedicated to community service, from helping the less fortunate to developing affordable housing in Harlem, and promoting healthcare in the community.

Butts was on the forefront of the battle against aids epidemic of the 1980s and the recent fight against the spread of COVID-19.

"The church stands ready to serve in crises like these. We are the first line of defense often for our communities," Butts said.

Tyler Perry and Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the mourners at a memorial service for actor Cicely Tyson that Butts presided over at Abyssinian last year. Butts praised Tyson as an example of "an example of how we all might live."

In a recent interview on Good Morning America, he echoed the words that have kept many in this Black community gowing through trials and tribulations.

"Keep the faith and don't give up because there is a brighter day ahead," Butts said.

Butts leaves behind three children and six grandchildren. He was 73 years old.

The Butts Family and Abyssinian Baptist Church asked for prayers.

Anyone wishing to pay tribute to Dr. Butts can do so at the church's website.

Back in 2015, Bill Ritter spoke with Rev. Butts on an episode of Up Close. You can watch it here.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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