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Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, Pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dies at 73

Rev. Calvin O. Butts III
Rev. Calvin O. Butts III

By Jamila Bey

Rev. Calvin Butts, III, the church’s eminent pastor, did not shirk from the charges, but he cited several problems for the delinquency. Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, and former president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury, died Friday (Oct. 28). He was 73. The cause of death was not immediately known.

“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 Harlem church announced in a Twitter post. “The Butts Family & entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers.”

Butts was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1949, and moved to Queens, New York, with his family. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Morehouse College in Atlanta, a Master of Divinity degree from New York’s Union Theological Seminary in 1975, and a Doctorate of Ministry in church and public policy from Drew University. Butts joined Abyssinian during his seminary years, eventually becoming a youth minister and, in 1989, assistant pastor.

That year, he founded the non-profit Abyssinian Development Corporation, which grew to become a multimillion-dollar economic advocacy organization for the Harlem community, with more than $37 million in total revenue.

Butts also taught urban affairs and African studies as an adjunct professor at City College of New York, as well as Black Church history at Fordham University in the Bronx.

Butts was among the most outspoken critics of police tactics in Black communities in the 1990s, blasting Mayor Rudy Guiliani over the killing of Amadou Diallo at the hands of New York Police Department officers in 1999. Those officers were acquitted the following year.

Butts is survived by Patricia, his wife, three children, and six grandchildren.

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