The Rev. Calvin Butts left behind a legacy of prayer and political activism

The cathedral was designated as a New York City icon in 1993. Butts took over the podium from a lengthy lineage of captivating preachers, such as Adam Clayton Powell Sr., His offspring Adam Jr., And Samuel Proctor. For over three decades, Butts served as the head clergyman at Harlem’s renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church, a centuries-old establishment established in 1808, which in turn served as a hub for Harlem’s religious and governmental affairs.

Butts delivered his insightful and sometimes cutting sermons to the abundant congregation of Abyssinian Church, as well as to visitors hailing from various parts of the globe.

The ornate Gothic church on 138th Street, known as Butts hear to Street, is crowded with congregants who gather to expound on social justice and economic parity, urging neighbors to love one another.

“According to Adams, the City has suffered the loss of a truly remarkable figure. Mayor Eric Adams of New York expressed in a statement on Friday that Butts provided guidance and support to him during the city’s most challenging periods.”

He established the Abyssinian Development Corporation with the aim of rejuvenating Harlem.

He was born in Bridgeport, Conn., To working-class parents, and grew up in Queens, New York City. After graduating from a public high school in Queens, he went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he followed in the footsteps of men such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Julian Bond, a civil rights leader. He eventually returned to New York to receive a master’s degree from Drew University and a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary.

In 1989, he was named the head pastor of Abyssinian. He started moving up the hierarchy of the church and began working as an assistant office at Abyssinian while he was a young parent and a graduate of school.

Some would argue that the acceleration of partnerships development was inevitable for Butts. The Abyssinian Development Corporation, which Butts became the head pastor of in the same year, aimed to create viable businesses and housing to include many Harlem residents who were in danger of being pushed by gentrification. Harlem was rich in history but poor in resources at that time.

Sometimes, Butts was a part of a circle that included powerful politicians and civic leaders, such as former Mayor David Dinkins, former Chief Borough Manhattan Percy Sutton, and former Congressman Charles Rangel.

He viewed himself as a “race advocate” but didn’t automatically support all Black individuals.

Many of the attackers were found guilty, leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the case, all thanks to Butts leveraging his influential position as the head pastor of Abyssinian Church (among others) to advocate for it. Michael Griffith had been attempting to avoid being brutally attacked by a group of enraged young white men who were angered by his presence in “their” neighborhood, following the killing of a black man by white attackers in Howard Beach, Queens, in 1985. This incident sparked outrage within the Black community.

He convinced Congressman John Conyers Jr. To establish a committee to probe police violence in African American communities.

“While we did not always agree, we consistently united,” stated Sharpton in a declaration regarding Butts’ demise on Friday. That was eventually revealed to be a deception, as Brawley asserted to have been abducted and attacked by four Caucasian males. Sharpton positioned himself as Brawley’s advocate when the notorious Tawana Brawley case gained nationwide attention in 1987, but he did not intervene or release a statement. He famously clashed with the Reverend Al Sharpton occasionally during the early stages of Sharpton’s career, finding the outspoken activist excessively militant and impulsive for comfort at that time. Although he perceived himself as a “race man,” Butts did not automatically support all African American individuals.

In the 2008 election, Rev. John Lewis, along with several other Black politicians, including Rev. Butts, declared himself “overjoyed” with Obama’s decision to not make the race-based endorsement and to not declare that the race will become something. This also raised eyebrows when he supported Obama over Hillary Clinton.

From 1999-2020, Butts held the position of president at the Old Westbury campus of the State University of New York located on Long Island, while also serving as a pastor at Abyssinian.

I owe a great deal to Reverend Butts, who inspired and trained me at the beginning of my career. He was a mentor to me and today, I am the one who offers prayers and love to his wife, Patricia, and his family. In a tweet, fellow Morehouse alum and Baptist minister, Senator Raphael Warnock, paid tribute to Reverend Butts.

Butts is survived by his spouse, Patricia, three offspring, and six grandchildren.