Remembering Rev. Calvin Butts III, Beloved Spiritual and Community Leader in Harlem

Calvin Butts III (UTS'75), who passed away on Oct. 28, 2022, is remembered by community members and Columbia.

Kelly Moffitt-Hawasly
October 31, 2022

Rev. Calvin Butts III, a beloved spiritual and community leader in Harlem passed away on Oct. 28, 2022, at the age of 73. People across our local community and around the nation are expressing their condolences and honoring his legacy.

A graduate of Union Theological Seminary and Morehouse College, Butts was the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church for over 30 years. A historic institution in the heart of Harlem, Abyssinian is one of the oldest African American Baptist congregations in the United States. Butts also served as President of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury for two decades, until retiring in 2020.

An in-depth profile of Butts in Sunday's The New York Times recognized his importance to both the Harlem community, where he directed more than $1 billion into local residential and commercial projects through the Abyssinian Development Corporation, as well as his political heft in New York City. He was also a forceful critic of racism and police brutality throughout his life. 

In 2014, Butts received the Unitas Distinguished Alumni Award from Union Theological Seminary, which bears witness to the faith and perseverance of living Union alumni/ae who exemplify the Seminary’s academic breadth, its diversity, and inclusiveness, and the range of vocations its graduates follow.

Columbia University joins its neighbors in Harlem in offering its condolences to Butts' friends, family, and loved ones. Messages honoring Butts' legacy have been shared by numerous organizations and leaders. A few can be found below.

You can share your reflections on Rev. Butts' legacy with Abyssinian Baptist Church. A prayer vigil, viewing, and homegoing celebration for Rev. Butts will be held at the church throughout the week of Oct. 31 and information on those specific events can be found here

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