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Easter Sunday Mass with Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III at

Source: New York Daily News Archive / Getty

Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts III, the longtime pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City’s Harlem community where he became highly influential in local politics, died on Friday at the age of 73.

The cause of Butts’ death was cancer, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Butts was a part of the legendary church for 50 years.

Abyssinian Baptist Church announced Butts’ death on its Facebook page on Friday morning.

“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. “The Butts Family and entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers for us in our bereavement.”

From ABC News:

Butts joined Abyssinian as a youth minister in 1972, and led the Harlem church as pastor for decades, becoming a trusted council of politicians and the public alike as its senior pastor.

Butts was also President Emeritus of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and served in the Fordham University Graduate School of Education as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division.

Sharpton eulogized Butts in a statement emailed to NewsOne.

“Rev. Butts was a major pillar in the Harlem community and is irreplaceable. 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,” the Founder and President of the National Action Network said.

“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.”

Butts was active politically in both the community of Harlem as well as nationally, receiving both criticism and praise for his public stances on a number of topics.

Notably, Butts endorsed Ross Perot’s independent presidential candidacy in 1992 and repeatedly demonstrated that he wanted the best for his community regardless of through which political vessel it was delivered.

He also caused a bit of a firestorm in the mid-90s when he wondered about the allegiance Black people have shown to the Democratic Party.

“I hope it will set a fire under the electorate to begin to think more clearly about what they’re getting for their ‘loyalty,'” Butts said in 1995. “We’ve been so loyal to Democrats, what are we getting for it?”

Two years earlier, Butts famously and nearly mounted a steamroller to drive it over a mound of rap CDs piled in front of Abyssinian Baptist Church. It was part of Butts’ crusade against explicit rap lyrics.

“Recognize that this poison kills,” Butts said of the rap lyrics.

“I may have more in common with a white man who loves humanity than I do with a black man who thinks he ought to call all women Bs and hoes,” Butts said around that same time. “There is some point where we can’t be pushed into this corner and say, you know, just for the sake of unity we ought to keep this quiet.”

Butts was born on July 19, 1949, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, before he and his family moved to the Queens borough of New York City. After graduating from high school, Butts went on to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta before earning his master’s degree in divinity from the Union Theological Seminary and his doctorate degree in ministry from Drew University.

His tireless work for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised is well-documented and exemplified through the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization Butts founded and chaired to assist local families in Harlem.

Abyssinian Baptist Church is inviting people to share their personal reflections on Butts’ life by leaving messages on its website that the church said it will compile and present to Butt’s family. Click here to add your own personal reflection on Butts’ life and impact.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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