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.
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.
Relatives said Rev. Evans is survived by his wife, Lutha Mae; his daughters Gail Claudette Pye and Faith Evans, and sons Michael and Ralph. Another daughter, Diane, died before Rev. Evans.
Jenkins said he is scheduled to lie in state from noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, with a celebration of his life to follow. A visitation is planned from 9 to 10 a.m. Dec. 7, with another celebration to follow.