Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts III has died at the age of 73 after serving for decades as a pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City’s Harlem community.
“It is with profound sadness, we announce the passing of our beloved pastor, Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, lll, who peacefully transitioned in the early morning of October 28, 2022,” the church wrote in a statement announcing Butts’ death. “The Butts Family and entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers for us in our bereavement.”
“He was a dominant faith and academic leader for decades. We knew each other for more than 40 years, and while we did not always agree we always came back together,” Sharpton continued. “Over the last three years, he and I worked closely as co-chairs of the Choose Healthy Life national campaign to help the Black community fight COVID. We spoke as late as a couple of weeks ago about this work, as he was still fighting cancer. He will be tremendously missed.”
According to Gothamist, Butts founded the Abyssinian Development Corporation during his time as pastor for one of the largest congregations in NYC. The ADC is a non-profit focused on housing that developed an estimated $1 billion worth of residential and commercial property in Harlem.
Butts grew up in the city, graduating from Flushing High School in Queens and then Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He then came back to New York to earn a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary as well as a doctor of ministry degree from Drew University in New Jersey. He also served as the president of SUNY Old Westbury.
He frequently criticized the de Blasio administration on issues where he sought sweeping reforms, including criminal justice and policing. Butts had repeatedly called for an overhaul of the city’s police force and the firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, years before the department terminated his employment.
Butts joined Abyssinian as a youth minister in 1972, according to ABC 7, and was part of the legendary church for 50 years, serving for about three decades as the church’s lead pastor.
He also served as President Emeritus of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and in the Fordham University Graduate School of Education as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division.
Since his death, which, according to Sharpton, came after he battled cancer, he’s received an outpouring of honors on Twitter from prominent activists and educators like civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill, Cornel West and writer Michaela Angeles Davis, as well as prominent politicians like former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
According to ABC, Butts leaves behind three children and six grandchildren.