Rev. Clay Evans, Civil Rights Leader, Evangelical Broadcaster and Gospel Music Star, Dies at 94

FILE – In this April 15, 2009, file photo, the Rev. Clay Evans speaks during funeral services for David “Pop” Winans Sr. at Perfecting Church in Detroit. Prominent Chicago minister and gospel music singer the Rev. Evans, a civil rights activist who embraced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he expanded his movement out the south, is dead at age 94. Evans’ death was announced Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in a social media post by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, who in 2000 succeeded Evans as pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. Evans led the church for 50 years. (Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press via AP, File)

The Rev. Clay Evans, a civil rights leader, influential evangelical broadcaster and gospel music icon, died Wednesday at 94.

His death was announced by Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, the house of worship Rev. Evans founded after being ordained a minister in 1950. He served the church for half a century.

“He will forever be known as a civil rights leader (who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King and Reverend Jesse Jackson), gospel music pioneer, civic leader, community staple, and trusted counselor to all including presidents, governors, mayors, and anyone in need of advice,” Jenkins said in a Facebook post.

Rev. Evans was “responsible for launching the ministerial careers of ninety-three people, including Mother Consuella York, the first female to be ordained in the Baptist denomination in Chicago,” according to the website of the church at 4543 S. Princeton Ave.

In 1968 at his church, Rev. Evans ordained the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Today we stand in the wake of his life and his legacy … and express our thanks to him,” Jackson said at a news conference Wednesday. “There is a hole where our hearts used to be.”

Working with Jackson, the pastor helped form Operation PUSH, the HistoryMakers website said.

In some of the most heated days of the civil rights movement, Rev. Evans defied Mayor Richard J. Daley in welcoming the Rev. Martin Luther King to Chicago.

“When Dr. King decided to use Chicago as a northern expansion of the civil rights movement, Rev. Clay Evans had to endure some political fallout” for his support, said funeral director Spencer Leak Sr. “The word had gone out [from City Hall] that ministers should not invite Dr. King to their churches.”

Rev. Evans embraced him and worked with him, and as a result, it became difficult for him to get construction work done on his church, Leak said. Code violations were alleged, and “Building permits were very difficult to obtain because of his support for Dr. King,” he said.

In 1964, the pastor and Leak’s father, A.R. Leak, helped lead a march of thousands to desegregate racially divided Oak Woods Cemetery on the South Side.

Over the years, countless politicians visited his church to speak to the congregation and cultivate voters. In 1995, Daley’s son, Richard M. Daley, received key support when Rev. Evans backed his mayoral reelection bid over an African American candidate, Joseph E. Gardner.

Rev. Evans once told the HistoryMakers of his faith in the power of the Black Church. “Some of our greatest leaders, whether it be politicians, whether it be business people, or whether it be schoolteachers, theatrical people, come right from the church,” he said.

Further, “It has inspired people and kept us together, and gave us hope during slavery and all [kinds] of other problems that we’ve gone through,” he said in the interview. “If we could go to church and get our spiritual bearings, it helped us in all the other walks of life. It kept families together. Kept you from killing somebody.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., joined in the condolences, calling him “a prophet, a priest, and a pastor to both parishioners and pastors.”

“Rev. Clay Evans was a religious and civil rights leader who called for the best in our humanity,” former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a tweet. “When he spoke, his voice was heard in Chicago and echoed across America, and we are a better city and nation for it.”

He was born in Brownsville, Tennessee.

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Source: Chicago Sun Times