By AFRO Staff
Prominent Chicago minister and gospel music singer the Rev. Clay 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 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.
Jenkins praised Evans as a civic leader and “trusted counselor” to anyone in need of advice. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago is a better city because the Brownsville, Tenn., native spoke out on the issues.
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. (Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press via AP, File)
Funeral director Spencer Leak, who was King’s chauffeur in Chicago, noted when King brought his movement to the city in the 1960s, that Evans was one of the few Black ministers who embraced the civil rights leader.
“I try to embody the principles of Christianity, and for me that means being dedicated to freedom and equality,” Evans told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1974 <https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-rev-clay-evans-obituary-20191128-qxj3hirfhrgrzprxgygtnob4mm-story.html.>
It was stance that earned him ridicule, but Evans remained resolute, Jenkins said.
“You’ve got to be willing to stand for something. It may cause you some discomfort, but you have to be willing to stand by principles, by precept and example,” Jenkins said of Evans in a Tribune interview. “He would say be bold as a lion but as humble as a lamb, and know that at moments when you face adversity, be strong.”
Evans ordained the Rev. Jesse Jackson and helped him form Operation PUSH, later Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
In addition to his civil rights advocacy, Evans also was known for rousing sermons, the popularization of broadcast ministry during the 1970s through his “What a Fellowship” TV program, and helping to bring gospel music into the mainstream.
The baritone performed solos and with his Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church choir, and later with the African American Religious Connection Mass Choir, and produced dozens of albums.
Evans is survived by his wife, five children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A daughter preceded him in death.
Fellowship church will host a wake and funeral services on Dec. 6 and 7.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.