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Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., pastor at New Shiloh Baptist

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The Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter Sr., senior pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church, whose legendary preaching spanned generations and brought him an audience beyond his congregation of 5,000 members, died of cancer Thursday. He was 76.

In 47 years of ministry, Dr. Carter preached with legends of the civil rights era, before his congregation in West Baltimore and to bigger audiences across America and in foreign countries. And for years, his resounding voice could be heard on Sundays on WBAL-Radio.

One sermon more than three decades ago — when he filled 14,000 seats in what is now the 1st Mariner Arena for an evangelistic crusade — still resonates with the Rev. A.C.B. Vaughn, the senior pastor of Sharon Baptist Church and a family friend.

"The greatest sermon he ever gave was his life," said Vaughn. "Harold Carter was one of the crown jewels. His main thrust was prayer and evangelization. He had a passion for saving souls."

Dr. Carter's influence has had broad reach. His first book, "The Prayer Tradition of Black People," is a standard work in the Black Spiritual Anthology, according to the church's website. In more recent years, he has preached for the Promise Keepers ministries for men, regarded as a growing force in evangelical Christianity.

Dr. Carter also left his mark in Baltimore. He worked to establish a church complex that includes senior-citizen housing, a theological institute, a religious music school and a children's center.

"He was simply one of Baltimore's giants," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"He was a leader and an inspiration to generations of people," said Mr. Schmoke, also a neighbor of Dr. Carter. "He was a good friend and a close adviser. Dr. Carter was a bridge between several generations of leaders, beginning with civil rights, then politics and then the business community."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "Baltimore and the nation lost a spiritual patriarch of love and compassion."

"Pastor Carter was a neighbor when I was growing up, and I remember him as a kind and gracious man," she said. "I've personally sought his counsel on many occasions and have benefited from his loving generosity of wisdom and insight. He was a true statesman of the cloth."

Family members said Dr. Carter stopped preaching on Sunday mornings on WBAL-Radio earlier this spring because of his health. He had been on the radio for decades and for many years spoke on Sunday evenings.

Born in Selma, Ala., he was the son of Dr. Nathan Mitchell Carter, a well-known professor of Old Testament studies at Selma University. His mother, Lillie Belle Hicks, had been a teacher before her marriage.

His brother, Nathan M. Carter Jr., who died in 2004, led the Morgan State University choir and was a well-known musician.

Dr. Carter initially wanted to be an attorney and earned a degree at Alabama State College.

In a 1995 Baltimore Sun interview, Dr. Carter said that in the summer of 1955, his life changed and that he began "hearing an inner voice that said God intended him to preach."

He was determined to change his career as he listened to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. "Dr. King became an inspiration as well as a guide," according to the Sun interview.

In a 1990 autobiographical sketch, Dr. Carter said, "How transformed I felt when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told me he had gone to college wanting to be a doctor, then switched to law, only to wind up himself preaching the Gospel."

Dr. Carter went on to Dr. King's alma mater, Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa. He later earned doctorates at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore and at Colgate Bexley Hall/Crozer Seminary in Rochester, N.Y.

Dr. Carter moved to Baltimore in 1965, when he became pastor of the New Shiloh congregation, which then worshiped at Fremont Avenue and Lanvale Street. The church had about 800 members.

He was active in civil rights issues. In 1968, he was a local coordinator for the Poor People's Campaign, a national movement that rallied support for African-American causes. He also preached at many revivals and appeared with the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. Carter involved his family at New Shiloh. The congregation's "first lady" was his wife, Weptanomah Bermuda Washington, who ran the women's ministry and wrote nine books, including "The Black Minister's Wife."

His son, Dr. Harold A. Carter Jr., now leads the congregation, which is housed in a church at 2100 N. Monroe St.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement that his "heart is heavy" after learning of the passing of Dr. Carter, whom he called "a true friend and mentor who blessed my life in countless ways."

"Dr. Carter was a man of God. As a pastor, an author and a community leader, he built a strong ministry rooted in Christian faith and embodying the principles of civil rights and justice that were instilled in him in his youth," Cummings said, adding that he often turned to him for counsel when facing difficult decisions.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement that she has worshiped at New Shiloh for many years.

"I remember his joy when we talked about his work to empower young people," she said. "I remember his lovely wife of 48 years, Dr. Weptanomah W. Carter, and his talented brother, Dr. Nathan Carter, who treated me like family.

"Reflecting on his life and works as a spiritual giant, I can call him a legend in his own time."

Dr. Carter was honored at a "Living Legend" reception by the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in 2006.

His wife died in 2006. In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Weptanomah Carter Davis of Bowie; three sisters, Dorothy Carter Jackson of Selma, Ala., Marian Carter McKinnie of Indianapolis and Blanche Carter Thrash of Atlanta; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are being planned at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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