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Rev. Clay Evans Archive

Identifier: spe-c00036

Scope and Contents

The Rev. Clay Evans Archive contains a broad range of materials both physical and electronic. This includes anniversary programs, awards, church histories, membership ledgers, obituaries, oral histories, photographs, and over two decades of the What a Fellowship Hour television broadcast in addition to other recordings.


  • 1944 - 2017


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

Born June 23, 1925 to Henry Clay and Estanauly Evans of Brownsville, Tennessee, Rev. Clay Evans was one of nine siblings. He left the Jim Crow South in 1945 to seek a better life in Chicago but never abandoned his ties to Brownsville or his family. In 1946, Rev. Evans married “the prettiest girl in the choir,” Lutha Mae Hollingshed. They had five children: Diane, Michael, Ralph, Claudette and Faith Renee; they also raised a nephew, Stevie Stewart. Rev. Evans, a father-figure for many, thought of his Fellowship members and sons and daughters in the ministry as his extended family.

Rev. Clay Evans was called to the Ministry in 1946. He received his Christian training from the Chicago Baptist Institute and the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. With only five members, Rev. Evans began his church on September 10, 1950. Under his dynamic leadership, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church grew rapidly, becoming one of the most significant churches in Chicago.

In 1954, Fellowship purchased a building at 46th and State Streets, which Rev. Evans recalled, “was a garage, but we turned it into a cathedral.” By 1959, Fellowship had outgrown the space, and Rev. Evans led a 1500-car motorcade as the congregation moved to a former Lutheran Church at 45th Street and Princeton Avenue. In 1963, with an ever-growing membership, Fellowship broke ground on a new building next door. Construction of the new church abruptly came to a halt in 1966. Rev. Clay Evans was one of the few pastors in the City to welcome Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement at a time when most business, religious and political leaders disapproved of his Northern campaign. Rev. Evans paid a price for following his conscience and organizing support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC): the loans and permits for his new church were cancelled. For seven years, the steel framework would bear witness to his defiance of the power brokers. With Rev. Jesse Jackson’s help, an interdenominational group of black and white pastors stood by Rev. Evans and a new building loan was approved December 18, 1971.

The circular structure of the new church was designed by Rev. Evans to include ample performance space for Fellowship’s choir and recording studio. Rev. Clay Evans’ Gospel music voice is recognized throughout the world. In the late 1940s he sang with The Lux Singers and Soul Revivers before becoming a minister. In 1952, just two years after founding Fellowship, he launched his radio ministry reaching beyond the walls of the church. In 1977, he moved to television with the acclaimed What a Fellowship Hour. With a choir led by his dynamic sister, Lou Della Evans-Reid, Fellowship has recorded over 40 albums, including the 1996 Stellar Award-winning I’ve Got a Testimony. According to Journal of Gospel Music (July 14, 2012), “The choir and its band of soloists and musicians … created the gold standard of Gospel chorus singing.” Fellowship continues the tradition of music excellence today.

Rev. Evans’ organizational leadership transcended Fellowship. He opened the doors of his church, “the Ship,” to welcome Martin Luther King Jr. and to launch Operation Breadbasket and Operation PUSH with Rev. Jesse Jackson. His founding of the Broadcast Ministers Alliance and development of Concerned Clergy for a Better Chicago established new channels for African American empowerment in Chicago. He also founded the African American Religious Connection (AARC) and has helped lead the National Baptist Convention, DuSable Museum and Black National Religious Broadcasters, among other organizations. A strong advocate for education, Rev. Evans established the Clay Evans Scholarship Fund (CE$F) which has supported the college dreams of high school students in Illinois and Tennessee for over forty years.

From Fellowship, Rev. Evans launched the ministerial careers of more than 90 people, including Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1968 and Mother Consuella York in 1954. At first, other ministers ostracized him for ordaining a woman, but he went on to lead the Baptist Ministers Conference of Chicago and Vicinity.

After 50 years of leadership, Rev. Evans retired in 2000 and passed the mantle to Rev. Charles Jenkins, his personally chosen successor. Nevertheless, an active schedule of ministry and community events continued after this date.


90 Linear Feet (in 56 boxes, includes 66 art/artifacts, 5 oversize folders, 786 photographs, 267 digital photographs, 32 oral histories and 885 audiovisual recordings)

Language of Materials



The Rev. Clay Evans Archive spans his 50 years of pastoral leadership at Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church that he founded in 1950, and beyond his retirement in 2000. His ministry reached into the larger community with the What a Fellowship Hour broadcasts, Gospel choir performances and an engagement with the Civil Rights Movement along with numerous religious and community organizations such as the African American Religious Connection (AARC), the Broadcast Ministers’ Alliance and Operation PUSH. The collections include church documents, photographs, artifacts and audio-visual broadcasts and interviews.


The Rev. Clay Evans Archive is arranged into the four series:

Series 1: Biographical, 1950-2017, undated

Series 2: Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, 1950-2016, undated

Series 3: Partnerships and Community Activities, 1944-2016, undated

Series 4: Art, 1973-1997, undated

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Due to the lack of appropriate play-back equipment, researchers must use the digitized mp4 versions of the Rev. Clay Evans What a Fellowship Hour recordings.

Physical Location

Some art and artifacts in the collection are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Reverend Clay Evans in 2015 and 2016; photographs 2.265-2.272 were donated by Mona Johnson in 2016. Oral histories, documentary films (cgp_C00036_celebration_2013, cgp_spe_C00036_AV_052017), event documentation (cgp_C00036_CPL_celebration_2016) and digital photographs (2.1-2.264) were donated by Patty Nolan-Fitzgerald in 2016-2017.

Existence and Location of Originals

The Beta (btl), U-Matic/U-Matic S (uma and ums), VHS (vhs), cassette (cas) and reel-to-reel (rll) formats of the What a Fellowship Hour broadcast were converted to a digital format as part of a Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) at Baylor University in Texas over the course of 2016-2020. These are available for viewing in the Library’s Special Collections. Chicago Public Library has retained the master recordings.

Existence and Location of Copies

Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) at Baylor University in Texas holds digitized copies of audiovisual recordings that begin with the prefix el-bgpp.

Related Materials

Rev. Martin L. Deppe Papers

Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church Archives

Evans, Collections on Rev. Clay

Evans-Reid, Lou Della Papers

Harold Washington Archives & Collections. Press Office Photographs

Jones, Willa S. Papers

Joyner, Marjorie Stewart Papers

Jubilee Showcase Gospel Music Video Collection

Logan, Arthur Papers

Martin & Morris Collection

Martin & Morris Music Company Papers

Smith Collier, Lucy Papers

Separated Materials

126 plaques and trophies were donated to the Dunbar-Carver Museum in his hometown of Brownsville, Tennessee.

26 audiovisual recordings were separated due to damage to the master tape or due to content that was unrelated to Rev. Clay Evans.

Processing Information

Over 800 recordings, including the television program, What a Fellowship Hour were digitized by Baylor Univerity in Texas as part of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project (BGMRP) between 2016-2020. The master tapes were returned to Chicago Public Library. Electronic mp4 versions of the recordings are avalable for viewing in the Special Collections Reading Room. Metadata generated by Baylor's staff was used to create item descriptions.

Guide to the Rev. Clay Evans Archive
Michelle McCoy, 2017. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2021.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875