Rev. Calvin Otis Butts III, July 19, 1949 – October 28, 2022, was an academic administrator and a senior pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which historically is NYC’s largest black church in Harlem, NY.
Early life and education
Calvin Butts III was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His father, Calvin Otis Butts II, worked as a cook, and his mother in social service. Soon, the family moved to Queens, New York, where the son attended public schools, though he would spend summers in rural Georgia with his grandmothers.
The elected president of his senior class, Butts graduated from Flushing High School in 1967. From Morehouse College, where he joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy.
After returning to New York, he earned from Union Theological Seminary a Master of Divinity in church history, and from Drew University a Doctor of Ministry in church and public policy.
Butts joined the Abyssinian Baptist Church, in Harlem, traditionally New York City’s largest and preeminent black church, known for community leadership, as a youth minister in 1972. For decades its senior pastor, he also delivered a weekly sermon by radio on a local station popular among black music fans, 98.7 FM (KISS-FM).
In the late 1980s, Butts offered an early endorsement of the Harlem Week of Prayer, organized by Pernessa C. Seele, and helped mobilize the religious community to support programs for AIDS patients and their families.
In 1989, Butts founded and chairs the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC). The ADC is a church arm whose “projects have included the first high school built in Harlem in 50 years, some of the neighborhood’s first national retail chain stores, one of its first new full-service supermarkets, a department store and a shopping center. Abyssinian also owns more than 1,100 rental units, nearly all of them for low-income residents.”
In 1995, Governor George Pataki appointed Butts to two of New York state’s economic development boards—the Empire State Development Corporation as well as the New York State Science and Technology Foundation—which both controlled loans and grants to businesses.
From 1999 to 2020, Butts was the president of the State University of New York at Old Westbury. In turn, Butts has received honorary degrees from a number of colleges, including the City College of New York, Claflin College, Dillard University, Hartwick College, Muhlenberg College, Trinity College, Fordham University, and Tuskegee University.
On January 31, 2021, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III paid tribute to treasured, longtime Abyssinian member, actress, author, icon, and Harlemite Cicely Tyson:
Butts passed away on Friday, October 28, 2022, at the age of 73. Butts had three children and six grandchildren.