Influential preacher and civil rights leader Rev Gardner C Taylor dies at 96

Rev Gardner C Taylor was senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, in Brooklyn, New York for 42 years before his retirement.Screenshot from 2010 interview for America Preachers

Rev Gardner C Taylor, the grandson of former slaves who became a leading voice in the civil rights movement and a highly respected American preacher, died on Sunday aged 96.

Taylor died from a heart attack having attended an Easter service at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina earlier in the day, the New York Times reports.

Before his retirement in 1990, Taylor was senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, in Brooklyn, New York for 42 years. In 1961 he helped to found the Progressive National Baptist Convention with his friend Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, when they broke away from the National Baptist Convention. Taylor was PNBC's second president.

"The world has lost a giant of man, who transformed America and the world for the better," said PNBC president Dr James C Perkins. "How appropriate it is that God called Dr Taylor home on Resurrection Sunday. In both life and death Dr Taylor gave a clarion call to the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Born in Baton Rouge in June 1918, Taylor grew up in the segregated South and graduated from Oberlin College School of Theology in 1940. He was arrested for civil rights demonstrations three times during the 1960s, although he was known more for his quiet activism.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000, as well as numerous honorary doctorates over the course of his life.

Taylor had been living at Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham since 2011. His first wife, Laura Bell Scott, died in 1995. He is survived by his second wife, Phillis Strong, and his daughter, Martha Taylor LaCroix.

Speaking of Taylor's legacy, Dr Tyrone S Pitts, former PNBC General Secretary said in a statement: "Dr Taylor was the greatest preacher of the 21st Century. He was really was one of the people who helped to frame the Civil Rights movement and he was the soul of PNBC. He also was key in helping us to understand and appreciate the transformative and prophetic art of Black preaching."

In 1980 Time magazine heralded him as the 'dean of black preachers' in America. Speaking to the Washington Post, former PNBC president Caroll Baltimore said Taylor was known as the 'prince of preachers'.

In a 2010 interview with America Preachers, Taylor said: "The quality of living has much to do with the matter of dying... I think we are very foolish to make believe [death] doesn't exist. But I don't think you can be ready to die by preparing to die. You can be ready to die by the quality of your living."

He said the only legacy he wanted was as a preacher.