Legendary Chicago preacher, celebrated gospel artist and longtime civil rights activist Rev. Clay Evans has passed away at age 94.
According to the Chicago Tribune, a spokeswoman for the retired pastor said he died Wednesday at his home on Chicago’s South Side. But the Associated Press reported his death was announced Monday in a social media post by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, who succeeded Evans as pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in 2000.
Born one of nine siblings in Brownsville, Tenn. on June 23, 1925, Evans migrated north to Chicago in 1945 and a year later was married to Lutha Mae Hollingshed. The couple had five children also raised a nephew, according to research via the Chicago Public Library—where Evans gifted his archives to a few years ago.
Called to the ministry in 1946, he received his religious training from the Chicago Baptist Institute and the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. On September 10, 1950, he founded his church, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, with only five members. He would lead the church for five decades, growing it into a spiritual powerhouse with thousands of members.
The church—which initially started as Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church—has been located at 45th Place and Princeton Avenue since 1973.
In 1952, Evans launched his radio ministry and 27 years later entered into television with his “What a Fellowship” TV program, which helped popularize broadcast ministry.
With a choir led by his sister, Lou Della Evans-Reid, he produced over 40 gospel albums, including the 1996 Stellar Award-winning masterpiece I’ve Got a Testimony.
Among his many accomplishments, the celebrated cleric—along with Rev. C.L. Franklin—ordained the Rev. Jesse Jackson and helped him form Operation PUSH, which later became Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
In a statement to CBS News, Jackson said. “Rev. Clay Evans laid the groundwork for our advancements as a people in Chicago and around the nation.”
Evans is survived by five children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Fellowship Baptist Church will host funeral services on Dec. 6 and 7, reports the Chicago Tribune.