Fred Taylor, a Baptist clergyman who became a social activist and guardian of child welfare, playing a key role in the 1973 closure of Junior Village, a malfunctioning, overcrowded, understaffed and abusive D.C. center for impoverished children, died Nov. 23 at his home in Washington. He was 87.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Sherrill Taylor.

Mr. Taylor was the founding executive director of For Love of Children (FLOC), an advocacy and support organization that for more than 50 years has provided shelter, counseling, educational and training opportunities, and health services to thousands of needy, neglected and homeless children in Washington.

He joined the group in 1968, at a turning point in his ministry. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and Yale Divinity School, he had served as the pastor of a Baptist church in Northern Virginia. But by the early ’60s, he was spiritually unfulfilled and at loose ends. Fifty years later, in a FLOC video, he recalled that he was “listening for what I might be called to do in this world.”

Mr. Taylor resigned his pastorate and took a job with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. These were peak years of the civil rights movement, and a group of Washington-area clergy chartered an airplane to fly to Alabama for the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery protest march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

When the clergymen returned to Washington, several asked themselves, “Where is our Selma?”

For Mr. Taylor and others, it would be Junior Village, a collection of 13 cottages in a neighborhood of wrecked cars, a sewage treatment plant and a dump in a barren and desolate strip in far Southwest Washington. When Junior Village became excessively crowded, tents were pitched to handle the overflow.

News reports described it as a fearsome place of violence, rape and disorder where big children beat up little children, drugs were the primary antidote for disruptive behavior, and food was so meager that children near the end of the cafeteria line often could find only stale slices of bread to eat.

But in 1958 the child-care facility had opened to fanfare and high expectations. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and King made highly publicized visits. Handpicked Junior Village children were Christmas guests at the White House. It was said to be the largest such facility for children in the nation, housing 900 boys and girls — mostly African American — from the age of 6 months to 18, including the disabled and mentally ill.

It had acquired a reputation as a house of horrors by 1965, when the Rev. Gordon Cosby, a minister at Washington’s Church of the Saviour, formed FLOC after his return from the Selma march. Mr. Taylor, who soon came on as the group’s director, made it his mission to shut down Junior Village.

Foster parents were recruited. Group houses were established. There was financial support from charitable foundations, churches and government sources. It took eight years, but in 1973 Junior Village closed.

Mr. Taylor would stay on as FLOC’s chief, building an organization that would grow into a $10 million a year nonprofit with 130 staffers, serving 1,200 children in programs that included housing, school tutoring, wilderness camps and crisis interventions before retiring in 2003. (Many of the group’s initiatives were handed off to other community-based organizations.)

In 1999, Mr. Taylor published a book, “Roll Away the Stone,” about FLOC and the problems faced by poor children nationwide.

“When you reflect on the life and work of Fred Taylor,” wrote Washington Post reviewer Colman McCarthy, “no fitter line comes to mind than this: ‘The trouble with a good idea is it soon degenerates into hard work.’ ”

Mr. Taylor, he added, was “part Saul Alinsky, part George Wiley, part Geno Baroni — three well-remembered and much-missed radicals who went into big-city neighborhoods to find poor people waiting to have their grit organized into a force for self-improvement.”

Fred Taylor, the third of four children, was born May 23, 1932, in Princeton, Ky., where his father ran a lumber company. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1954 and received a master’s degree in divinity from Yale in 1957, then was a Baptist minister in Branchville, Va., and at Westmoreland Baptist Church in McLean.

His marriage to Anne Jarman ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Sherrill Rudy Taylor of Washington; three children from his first marriage, Sarah Harris of Chapel Hill, N.C., Fred Taylor of Falls Church, Va., and Grace Taylor of Louisville, Colo.; a stepdaughter, Jocelyn Kovalenko of Bothell, Wash.; and eight grandchildren.

Mr. Taylor was a golfer and a baseball fan, a summertime regular at Nationals Park, not far from his home in Washington. When he was in his 50s, he participated in an Outward Bound program that included survival training in the wilderness. It was “reinvigorating,” he told his family.

“I’ve based my life on a call rather than a career,” he once told Washingtonian magazine.

In 1954, when Mr. Taylor was preparing to leave for Yale, a mentor in Kentucky told him, “If you go, you’ll never come back, not because you wouldn’t be accepted, but because you will have changed.”

“He was right,” Mr. Taylor later told The Post, adding that he hoped for the same change for the children he worked with in FLOC, the children he rescued from Junior Village.

“It’s a long-distance run,” he said.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary misstated the year Mr. Taylor retired from FLOC. It was 2003, not 2013. The story has been updated.