Known as the”dean of the nation’s black preachers,”Rev. Gardner Calvin Taylor, will speak at West Virginia University’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration service at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at Trinity Episcopal Church on Willey Street.

Taylor, an author and civil rights pioneer, was a 2000 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Born in 1918 as the only child of a Baptist preacher, Taylor was agnostic until his involvement in a deadly car accident in 1937 led him to Christ. Eventually, he would become the senior pastor of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in New York City, where he served for 42 years, from 1948 to his retirement in 1990.

During his tenure, Taylor presided over a congregation that grew to 9,000 members. His sermons and lectures were broadcast by National Radio Pulpit and could be heard on 100 radio stations around the world.

In 1961, he sought the presidency of the National Baptist Church Convention and after losing, he and his followers formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

“It is a distinct honor to welcome the Rev. Gardner Taylor to West Virginia. Under his leadership, his church became one of the most prestigious black churches in America. He actively supports civil rights and continues to fight for King’s dream of equality, opportunity and freedom for all,”said Katherine Bankole, director of WVU ’s Center for Black Culture and Research, which helps to coordinate the commemoration program.

Bankole noted this is the 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration held by WVU . The program is free and open to the public.

WVU also will host a Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast Monday, Jan. 19. Dr. Eddie Reed, director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, will be the keynote speaker at the 8 a.m. event in the Mountainlair Ballrooms.

Recipients of the 2004 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award and the 2004 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship will be announced.

The public is welcome to attend this free event sponsored by the WVU President’s Office. R.S.V.P. by calling 304-293-7029, ext. 110, by Monday (Jan. 12).