New York

Reverend Calvin O’Butts III, pastor who fought poverty and racism, dies at 73 | New York

Rev. Calvin O Butts III, who fought poverty and racism and manipulated New York’s power structures as pastor of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, died Friday at the age of 73, the church announced.

“The Butts family and all members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church ask for your prayers in our bereavement,” the church said on its website.

Butts began serving as a youth pastor at Abyssinian in 1972 and has been senior pastor for over 30 years. He also served as President of the State University of New York at Old He Westbury, Long Island, from 1999 until 2020.

His post at the Abyssinian gave Butts one of the most prominent pulpits in the United States. The roots of this church go back to his 1808, when a group of black worshipers who refused to accept racism at his First Baptist Church in New York City left to form their own congregation.

The church’s current home on 138th Street in Harlem is a massive Tudor and Gothic Revival structure consecrated in 1923 and designated a city landmark in 1993.

Early Abyssinian ministers included Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and his son Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who was the first African American elected to Congress from New York.

Butts was known to work with political leaders across ideological boundaries.
In 1995, Republican Governor George Pataki appointed Butts to two state commissions that govern economic development grants to businesses.

That same year, Butts hosted then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro, an Abyssinian.

Butts surprised many by endorsing Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Butts later said he was “overjoyed” when Obama was elected America’s first black president that November.

Butts’ influence extended far beyond the walls of his church. In 1989, he founded the nonprofit Abyssinian Development Corporation to develop middle-income housing, retail, schools, and other projects in the surrounding area.

Butts helped mobilize church leaders to support programs for AIDS patients in the 1980s and most recently established a Covid-19 vaccination clinic in Abyssinian to educate community members against the virus. We encourage vaccination.

Butts said last year, referring to the racist history of episodes like the Tuskegee syphilis study that left many blacks distrustful of medical authorities, “conspiracies like the ones we’ve seen in the past are real. However, it did not exist for these vaccines.

Butts sparked controversy in the 1990s by preaching against violent and misogynistic rap lyrics. In June 1993, he had a parishioner bring recordings of offensive music to the church and force it to be played, but eventually instead of destroying the CD, he bought a Sony CD in midtown Manhattan. I decided to dump it in front of my office.

“Rap is a very powerful art form,” Butts said in a discussion with rapper Ice-T. and it is fascinating, so we want to see it shaped in a constructive and redemptive way so that young people can continue to progress against the evil that seeks to destroy us. I have.”

Tributes to Butts poured out on Friday.

“He has been a dominant faith and scholarly leader for decades,” Reverend Al Sharpton said in a statement. We didn’t, but we always got back together.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul called Butts “a force for moral clarity, an advocate for his Harlem community, a counselor to many civil servants” and was proud to call him a friend. There is

Butts is survived by his wife Patricia, three children and six grandchildren. Reverend Calvin O’Butts III, pastor who fought poverty and racism, dies at 73 | New York

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