The world of religion, the country and Black Chicago recently lost two spiritual and civil rights stalwarts. Longtime pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and gospel musician extraordinaire the Rev. Clay Evans, and Roman Catholic Church pioneering priest Father George Clements.
Both men left indelible marks and lasting legacies through their unapologetic work in uplifting Black people, often going against status quo political and religious leadership and institutions who felt clergy should be relegated to certain “acceptable” and nonthreatening boundaries.
“These are men who were real leaders,” said Hermene Hartman, longtime media publisher and founder of N’Digo magazine. She shared her reflections on Rev. Evans and Father Clements.
“They talk about leadership now like it’s in a can or a package. These were real leaders who led their community, who worked for their people, who stood up to politicians to say ‘no.’ These guys were revolutionary really,” Ms. Hartman told The Final Call after a Nov. 27 press conference at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church convened by Rev. Jesse Jackson and other clergy after news of Rev. Evans death broke earlier in the day. He was 94 years old. Father Clements died just two days earlier on Nov. 25 at age 87.
Rev. Evans is scheduled to lie in repose from noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, 4543 South Princeton Ave., followed by a governmental and civic celebration of his life at 7 p.m. Final visitation and the official celebration of life will take place Dec. 7 starting at 8 a.m. at Apostolic Faith Church, 3823 S. Indiana Ave. Local media reports Father Clements’ body will be donated to science and that a memorial service will be held at St. Sabina Church on Jan. 26.
“Both Father Clements and Brother Clay Evans were two men, when I first came to Chicago with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. and lived with him on the West Side of Chicago and we give birth to the movement in Chicago, these men took parts of the movement that he had preached about and organized about and opened up the Black church as an opportunity for liberation for Chicago,” said Rev. Al Sampson of Fernwood United Methodist Church.
Father Clements and Rev. Evans were both supporters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of the civil rights movement when it was not popular to align with the Georgia preacher. Rev. Evans opened his church doors to Dr. King when many pastors refused, and he was punished for it. By defying the orders of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley by welcoming Dr. King, the city made it difficult for Rev. Evans to obtain permits to complete construction on his church.
“This church stood for seven years in a steel shell because Mayor Daley stopped his loan permits and so forth for the construction of the church and that was because he allowed Dr. King to speak from his pulpit and Daley did not want King here. There were six aldermen who did not want him here and that (Rev. Evans’) fortitude and vision is phenomenal,” said Ms. Hartman who first met Rev. Evans when she was a 17-year-old volunteer at Operation Breadbasket, now Operation Push. It was his steadfastness, integrity and fearlessness that she admired.
Rev. Evans helped launch Operation Breadbasket and Operation PUSH, then known as Rainbow PUSH with Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“Rev. Clay Evans laid the groundwork for our advancements as a people in Chicago and around the nation,” said Rev. Jackson in a statement.
Rev. Evans wrote and sang several gospel hits and made it onto the Billboard charts as a gospel music artist several times.
“Gospel wasn’t his career, gospel was a part of what he was doing,” said former Chicago Alderman Dorothy Tillman. “Dr. King said a preacher has to know a good song and a Bible,” she continued. “There are some people when they leave, nobody cares about them leaving but their immediate family and the people around them and don’t have an impact in the Black community but he’s one of those trees in the forest that have fallen that have a great impact with his wisdom. He gave a lot,” said Ms. Tillman.
Not only did Rev. Evans break ground over the airways, he ushered in the concept of the mega church. Exposure from his radio and television program propelled Fellowship into that status, observed Rev. James T. Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. But it was Rev. Evans’ preaching, what Rev. Meeks called “a pure unadulterated Christian message,” that brought people back.
“He was preaching what the Bible said without compromise,” Rev. Meeks said. “Some pastors will preach what is comfortable and what people want to hear. They just want to preach what the scripture says and stand on it alone. So, if people don’t like it, they will change up their message. Rev. Evans was not going to change up his message for anybody.”
“His preaching wasn’t just about the afterlife. He had a dual eschatology,” added Rev. Ira Acree, who’s celebrating 30 years as pastor of Greater St. John’s Bible Church on Chicago’s West Side. “He didn’t just believe in heaven, but he preached the gospel in a way that a part of heaven comes to earth.”
Rev. Marshall E. Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s West Side, called Rev. Evans a great leader who could sing and preach, but also understood and knew how to move and organize people. His loss, he said, will be felt immensely.
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Source: The Final Call