Rev. Gardner Taylor, the dean of American preachers. (Photo/YouTube)

The Rev. Gardner Taylor, known as the dean of American preachers, died of an apparent heart attack on April 5, at the age of 96, according to various reports.

Taylor grew up in Baton Rouge, La., the grandson of former slaves. He became a prominent figure in America’s struggle for civil rights during the 1960s as well as one of the nation’s preeminent preachers while serving as pastor of Brooklyn, New York’s Concord Baptist Church of Christ for over 40 years.

In 1961, Taylor, along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other baptist preachers, formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which would be thoroughly committed to the fight for civil rights in a way that the National Baptist Convention was not at the time, according to the New York Times.

After a survey of seminary professors and editors of religious journals was taken, Taylor was named one of the top 12 preachers in the English-speaking world in 1996, according to the Associated Press. Taylor was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

“ was spellbinding in terms of his ability to bring a text to life,” Derrick Harkins, senior pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. told the Washington Post. “I doubt you can find anybody who would be able to say anything but that Dr. Taylor was absolutely exceptional as a preacher.”

Taylor was also effective in explaining the importance of the Black church as an institution to the lives of African Americans, reports the Times. “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,” Taylor once said. “But come Sunday morning, we could put our on 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? Where would we have been if there had been nowhere we could be told that we matter?”