The Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, a prominent faith leader who led Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, died on Friday, the church said. He was 73.
“The Butts Family and entire Abyssinian Baptist Church membership solicit your prayers for us in our bereavement,” the church said in a statement about the passing of its beloved pastor.
CNN has reached out to members of the Butts family for further comment.
Butts served at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, considered the first Black Baptist congregation in the state of New York, for more than 30 years.
He was the Chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, “a community based, not-for-profit organization responsible for over $1 billion in housing and commercial development in Harlem,” his official church biography says.
Butts also served as President Emeritus of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury and was a visiting professor of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy Division at the Fordham University Graduate School of Education. He was also married with three children and six grandchildren, his biography states.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that Butts “embodied true spiritual leadership — with a commitment to faith, community, & mentorship that [she] was honored to witness in [their] work together.”
Janai Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement that he “was a trailblazing force in Harlem and across New York for generations, as well as a national icon of secular social justice and civil rights activism. … We celebrate Rev. Butts’ legacy, mourn his loss, and stand in sympathy with all those he impacted throughout his life and career.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James called Butts an “icon” and said her heart is with his family, loved ones, and the entire Abyssinian Baptist Church community.”
The Abyssinian Baptist Church was established as the first African-American Baptist church in New York state in 1808 by a group of people who “refused to accept segregated seating in the First Baptist Church of New York City,” according to its website. The church broke ground at its current location in Harlem in New York City in 1922, the website states.