The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, a grandson of slaves who took over a Baptist pulpit in Brooklyn in 1948, when overt racism defined much of American life, and became an influential voice for civil rights and one of the nation’s most eloquent churchmen, died on Sunday in Durham, N.C. He was 96.
Mr. Taylor died at the Duke University Medical Center after attending Easter services at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Durham and a luncheon with his wife, Phillis Taylor. She said the cause was apparently a heart attack. Mr. Taylor, who had retired 25 years ago and moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 2004, had lived at the Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham since 2011.
For 42 years, until his retirement in 1990, Mr. Taylor was the senior pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. But his impact as a speaker, writer and political force in the city and in a nation of long-segregated schools, churches and other institutions reached far beyond his 10,000-member congregation.
The author of many books and 2,000 sermons and the recipient of 15 honorary doctorates, Mr. Taylor was a rumbling, rhythmic orator who marshaled Scripture, mystical allusions and the art of plain talk into sermons of emotional power. In 1980, Time magazine called him the dean of black preachers in America. In 1996, Baylor University said he was one of the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.
He often spoke passionately about the legacies of black churches in America, as in this passage cited by nationalministries.org:
“One of the great contributions of the black church was giving to our people a sense of significance and importance at a time when society, by design, did almost everything it could to strip us of our humanity. But come Sunday morning, we could put on our dress clothes and become deacons, deaconesses and ushers, and hear the preacher say, ‘You are a child of God’ — at a time when white society, by statute, custom and conversation, just called us ‘niggers.’
“How could we have survived without a sense of God and the church telling us that we do matter?” he continued. “Where would we have been if there had been nowhere we could be told that we matter?”
Mr. Taylor delivered lectures and sermons in South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Denmark, England, Scotland, Australia, China and Japan, and at universities and churches across the United States. In 1993, he gave the pre-inauguration sermon for President-elect Bill Clinton at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, and in 2000 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from Mr. Clinton.
“His life’s work has been a sermon as well,” Mr. Clinton said at the time, “teaching that none live in dignity when they are oppressed, and that faith can transcend racial, social and economic boundaries.”
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SOURCE: The New York Times
Robert D. McFadden