Rev. Calvin Butts, iconic leader of Abyssinian Baptist Church and pillar of Harlem, dies at 73
"The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, who welcomed generations of worshippers as well as political leaders from across the nation and around the world at Harlem's landmark Abyssinian Baptist Church, died Friday at age 73, the church announced.
"The Butts Family and entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers for us in our bereavement," the church said on its website. No cause of death was given.
Butts began serving as a youth minister at Abyssinian in 1972 and was senior pastor there for more than 30 years. He also served as president of the State University of New York at Old Westbury, on Long Island, from 1999 to 2020.
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.
The Rev. Al Sharpton called Butts a major pillar in the Harlem community. "He was a dominant faith and academic leader for decades," Sharpton said in a statement. "We knew each other for more than 40 years, and while we did not always agree we always came back together."
Sharpton said he had spoken to Butts recently and "he was still fighting cancer," CBS New York reported.
In a tweet, Mayor Eric Adams called Butts a "true giant of our city."
"Throughout my entire journey, Reverend Butts was a mentor, friend and advisor, even in his final days," Adams wrote.
CBS New York's Elijah Westbrook reported Friday from outside the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where residents were mourning Butts' death. Westbrook himself was christened by the reverend in 1995.
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."