BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Residents, family members, and elected officials gathered on Monday to say their final goodbyes to a prominent preacher and civil rights leader who died last week.
Hundreds of mourners flooded Concord Baptist Church of Christ for the funeral service of Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, who died last week at 96 years old.
Taylor served as senior pastor at the Marcy Avenue church for 42 years until his retirement in 1990. The community co-named a stretch of the avenue “Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor Boulevard” following his departure in recognition of his contributions to the neighborhood.
“Whenever Dr. Taylor walked in a room, people knew they were with someone special,” said Rev. Gary V. Simpson, Concord’s current senior pastor and Taylor’s successor. “He was incredibly gracious, humble, and chivalrous. He was a gentleman and always had time for everyone.
“When you sat down with him you were the most important person in the world at the moment, and that was part of his greatness,” he continued.
Taylor helped put Bedford-Stuyvesant on the map through his preaching and community initiatives, locals said. Clergy members referred to him as the “Dean of American preachers,” and he was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
During his tenure on Marcy Avenue, he helped create the Concord Federal Credit Union, an elementary school, home services for the elderly, senior residences, and foster care services, among many other neighborhood resources.
“Most people know him for his preaching but if you look around that block you will see so many institutional responses — the things that salted the very lives of people in that neighborhood,” Simpson said.
“He saw what may have begun as a pastoral need and systemically addressed the forces, circumstances, trials and troubles, unleashing it in Bedford-Stuyvesant to make the name ‘Concord’ life-giving.”
Attendees at Monday’s memorial described Taylor as a “trailblazer” and an engaging, “mesmerizing” speaker.
Taylor’s influence extended much further than Brooklyn. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native gave sermons all over the world and preached for the inaugural sermon of former president Bill Clinton in 1993.
Former president Clinton also awarded Taylor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
“Dr. Taylor was one of America’s greatest preachers, speaking not just from Scripture but from his soul,” Clinton said in a statement last week. “With unmatched eloquence, humor, and wisdom, he inspired generations to see the best in themselves and in one another.”
The former president attended memorial services for the pastor this weekend and spoke at the wake, according to attendees.
Taylor died on April 5 in Durham, North Carolina, following a heart attack, sources said. Mourners noted the pastor passed on Easter Sunday. Clergy members from across the nation remembered Taylor for his humor and charisma.
He is survived by his wife, Phillis Strong Taylor, his daughter, and grandson.