Samuel DeWitt Proctor, one of America's most respected preachers and educators, suffered a fatal heart attack while speaking at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, on May 22. He was 75.
Proctor served as senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, from 1972 to 1989. His greatest influence, however, may have been as a teacher and mentor. After helping to found the Peace Corps, where he gave leadership to the Africa division, Proctor served as president of two universities, Virginia Union and North Carolina A&T State. He retired as Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. In his retirement, Proctor served as visiting or distinguished professor at a number of seminaries and universities, including Vanderbilt, Duke, and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
A list of his students includes many of today's most prominent black pastors and leaders. In 1950, he befriended a young Martin Luther King, Jr., and over the next decade served as King's mentor. At Proctor's funeral, Jesse Jackson said, "I have spent all of my adult life trying to make Dr. Proctor proud of me."
Proctor's books include How Shall They Hear? Effective Preaching for Vital Faith, and We Have This Ministry, coauthored with his lifelong friend Gardner C. Taylor.
Taylor concluded Proctor's funeral by noting that his friend had died "with his sword unsheathed and his armor still in place," and that "he went directly to see the King with the stain of battle still on his garments."1
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