Statement on the Passing of Rev. Calvin Butts, Civil Rights Champion

October 28 2022

The Center for Policing Equity mourns the loss of Rev. Calvin Butts, civil rights champion and longtime pastor of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. We also send our deepest condolences to his family, loved ones, church community, and all who admired, respected, and loved him in New York City and across the nation.

Rev. Butts was only 22 years old when he began serving at Abyssinian in 1972, and quickly became a leading national voice on issues of racial and social equity. In service to this work, Rev. Butts was consistently nonpartisan, providing moral clarity even as questions of social justice became hot button political topics and moral leadership around racial equity was in retreat. His example, his moral courage, and his precise use of language inspired countless others to follow his lead–including even those raised in vitriolic white supremacy, doing the seemingly unthinkable and making it possible for all people to see the redemptive power of racial equity as a value foundational to human progress.

We all are beneficiaries of Dr. Butts' legacy, and his passing confers on us an even greater obligation to honor his work. The country stands now on a precipice of a return to the racism Rev. Butts worked so hard to overcome. We are called upon to heed the words that have guided Black communities for generations, repeated by Rev. Butts in a recent interview, to "keep the faith and don't give up because there is a brighter day ahead," and to continue the work that Rev. Butts led us in for so long, to build that brighter day.