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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Consuella York (CN 397, #T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Christopher Easley and Paul Ericksen, and completed in May 1992.
Collection 397, #T1. Interview with Consuella York by Robert Shuster on July 19, 1988.
SHUSTER: [Tape begins at 7-1/2 i.p.s speed]...on the microphones. [background noise] There we go.
SHUSTER: Okay, if you could just say a few words.
YORK: Praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow.
SHUSTER: Amen. [Tape recorder turned off and is at 3-3/4 i.p.s. speed when the recording resumes] Would you like to say a few more words? [laughs]
YORK: This is the Lord's doings and it is marvelous in our eyes.
SHUSTER: Amen. This is an interview with Reverend Consuella York, by Robert Shuster for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. This interview took place at 9:40 a.m. on July 19, 1988 in the offices of the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. Mother York, why don't we start with your family background. Can you tell me a little bit about your parents?
YORK: My father was a Baptist minister. His name is Reverend John L. Batchelor. And I...I was reared...born and reared in Chicago, Illinois. I was born July the 26th, 1923. My mother's name was Consuella. Actually it was born Consuela, but in school they always kept on saying Consuella, but I was born with one...one "L". And I was reared in a Christian home. Naturally, my father being a minister, church was a must, and that was my life line. We attended the church. I was born at 4241 Evans Avenue, Chicago, on the South side, and we belonged to a church called Sweethome Baptist Church right down the street from where I was born. So church has been a part of my entire life. I...I remember earlier in my life, my father would be preaching (he was not the pastor of the church, he was just one of the assistant pastors), but whenever he would preach, he'd always.... I was the youngest of four children. My oldest sister was Elizabeth, and then my brother was named Gordon, my next sister was Ada and then I was the baby. And my father and mother would take us to church every Sunday, and...and whenever my father would preach he said, "Whoever can stay awake and remember the sermon, I'll give 'em a nickel." And I...and...I...I...I can't forget that every Sunday evening, I'd have an orange crate, and I was going through...pantomimed my father's sermon, and never realizing what the Lord had in plan for me in years to come. But that was a life line. My father had...had always prayed that my brother would be [pauses] a preacher, but my brother was killed in a car accident in 1900 and 37, and [pauses].... But you know what? The things you ask God to do for you, you never never know. So, instead of my brother being a preacher, the Lord let some mantle fall on me. And...and...and it's strange of us...my father did not believe in women ministers and yet I end up being a preacher. But no...but you put your order in, I mean, the Lord just does the work. But I...I...I didn't realize then what the future would be, but that was the kind of atmosphere we were in. Church, it was always a must, had to go to Sunday school, did the B.Y.P.U. and all the activities of the church.
SHUSTER: B.Y.P.U. is...?
YORK: The Baptist Young Peoples Union. Yeah, that's in the Baptist church. They call it B.Y.P.U. Different denominations have different initials for the youth meetings and training. So they had to call B.Y.P.U.
SHUSTER: What was it like being a pastor's kid in the congregation?
YORK: Well, you know there...there were the...there weren't any distinctive places then, being my...as I said my father was an assistant pastor of the church and the congregation was small, so we had to go through the regular form there. I mean, there were no...no distinctive places then, you know. I mean, sixty-five years ago there...there were, you know...there...I mean, you were just regular children. Of course, but my father was a stern disciplinarian, and it was a must...oh he'd...he'd...he would really be out of context today and with the ages...the way the age is and the way folk do. My father was strict. Church was a must; obedience a must; you had to be home, no late hours; you...you had to do your chores, all those kind of things. So when we got to church, I mean...you know they've always said, "Preachers' kids are the worst kids in the world. The pastor sees everybody sin but his children's sin." But to the contrary, my father was very strict on me and we weren't allowed to do a lot of things, but obedience was the compulsive thing all the time, you know. And so it...it came naturally, you know. You weren't outstanding. You're just a...a...a preacher's kid. They call him a "PK", but...but we had to go through the regular rules and regulations of obedience and discipline, I mean, and abstaining from the things of the world. So it became a part of our life, you know. And then he was an individualistic man. He knew every child individually and he dealt with you, you know. I mean, if you did something wrong, the adults said, "Your child did certain things wrong." He did not wait to...to ask you,"Did you?" They said it and that was it, and then you got reprimanded. Now, if it was found out later you didn't do it, it's to late; you've already received it, but.... And...and they allowed the other people who were of age to...to discipline...to help to rear us in the proper manner.
SHUSTER: What kind of preacher was your father? What...how would you describe his preaching style?
YORK: Listen, that man was a preacher! Listen, 'cause he was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, I mean, and...and then he was...he went to Nashville to school, but I think he was twenty-one when he finished high school, but he was a man who did a lot of reading. When I was small, I could remember him being up at night with his Bible, with his notes, just going through his lesson and...and when he was younger he went to a place called Hope Bible School in Chicago, and then he had an African Christian Bishop, I mean, that taught the men. So he...he...he did a lot of extensive studying in the locale, you know, and so he stayed in his Book. The man could preach. I mean, when...as...as I was getting older, and sometimes I'd get provoked by something he...he...he...he'd had said to me personally, but when I got to church, I closed my eyes, I said, "Preach! Preach!" [Shuster laughs] because the man could just preach. He was just...he believed in studying his lesson, he believed fundamentally, you know. I mean, he was not highly emotional at all, but...but he...he...he stuck to his lesson, and if you...he preached you knew exactly what he was talking about, and it always...always had the art of persuasion. He wanted to find their way to Christ Jesus.
SHUSTER: What were some of his favorite sermon topics?
YORK: Let me...let's say, I...I remember the last one, because he...he...he...he...he gave it to me. He was in hospital prior to his death, in Veterans Hospital in 1957, and his sermon was "And Ye Shall Be Salted With Fire." [Mark 9:49] But he had preached, and I could...he...he'd always write notes, and I could always tell when he had missed his place because he'd always say, "All you got to do is hold to God's unchanging hand." I knew then he was finding his place, you know. [Shuster laughs] He'd get carried away and enlarge upon the point he'd made, and then get ready and then he'd say, "All you got to do is hold to God's unchanging hand." I'd say, "He's looking for his next point in the pages." [Shuster laughs] But...but...but it's...he was very thorough, you know. I mean, he'd use simple subjects like the "Bread of Life," "Becoming Christ's Disciples." He'd always use simple subject and text and break it down. And I found some of his old writings, some...not long ago. His sermon, he'd write it into detail and write it out thoroughly, you know. But he was simplistic, yet very profound, you know. He'd analyze, he'd make you...he'd make you know what he was talking about, you know. You know, he'd break it down, I mean. And then I...at night when I would hear him, I could hear his voice, you know, [whispers] "All you got to do is hold to God's unchanging hand," and he'd just be talking and I was listening, not realizing what my future life would be. I would just listen, but I was always sensitive to what he was saying, you know.
SHUSTER: You said that he was not approving of women preachers. Why was that?
YORK: I...you know, I guess that was just in his mind. You know, there are some traditional ideas that one has, I mean...I mean. And in those days it...it was a rarity for a woman to preach, 'cause she always thought of it in the masculine gender, about men doing it, you know. When you come from the old school, you know, you figure the woman's place is in the home, even though they are permitted to teach Sunday school, and do things like that. They always felt that it was a basically masculine orientated position, but not cognizant of the fact that God does what He wants. But a lot of folk, even today they hold the traditional idea, I mean, but it's because they just...I mean.... And basically if you hold a thing traditionally, you don't try to do much research on it because you stick to it. But when...of course, but then when the Lord called me to preach, he [York's father] had to recant all the statements he'd made [laughs] about women, 'cause you see when...when it became actually a part of his family then he recanted, you know. But that was just his idea. But he...he knew we ought to be taught, and so he taught us all the things we needed to know, yet not surmising in his mind, that...that...that it would ever form my life. But then, when he became aware of it, then he...he served as my assistant in our church until he expired.
SHUSTER: So he came to accept you as a preacher?
YORK: Oh yes, yes, yes. And I...I shan't forget the day the Lord called me to preach. It was in 1900 and 52, the [pauses] fourth Monday in February, and I...I was at a...I had a mimeograph shop at 3422 South State Street. It was at high noon, and I was running my mimeograph machine, and very audibly, a voice...I heard a voice say, "Preach My Gospel and give Me a clean life." I mean audibly, not...not any muffled sound, nothing. I wasn't in a trance. I was at my mimeograph machine. I cut my machine off and ran for the back of...(we...I lived on a storefront; my husband and I had separated, and I was living in this storefront with my sister and my godmother and my foster sister), and I ran to the back of the place where my godmother was (her name was Mother Betsy Brooks). I said, "Mother, Mother Brooks, the Lord has called me to preach, called me to preach!" And she was washing dishes. She just dropped the dishes. We were back there shouting...shouting and just having a time. And providentially, my father came by (because my father was an insurance man, and had did...he did surveying, and he took pictures, you know), and he came by...by...my...by the shop. I said, "Daddy, the Lord's called me to preach." He said, "Daughter, Daughter, Daughter, be analytical, be analytical!" He means.... And that's the thing to him because...listen.... And I was unaware of it then that he was saying that because of his stand, you know. So he said, "Well, don't say anything to anybody about it. Just...just take it easy, you know." So I said, "Alright." And...and ...and...but the thing was just bubbling inside of me. Now I...I was in the third year at the Chicago Baptist Institute, 'cause I had won a oratorical contest in 1948. And I, and...and God had allowed me...I was taking senior preaching and homiletics, and pastoral theology, I mean, just as a lay person, you know. I mean, I felt leanings in the pastoral realm, but as I said by being a traditional thing, I felt the Lord doing something, yet I was not sure. But in the meantime, because they...nobody had any idea that I would ever be preaching, they didn't withhold me from taking those subjects, because I was doing public speaking in churches. I worked as a secretary to the church where I attended, St. John's Baptist Temple, I mean. And then I worked in the conventions and what not, and I was doing religious public speaking already, so...so I was in, I mean, in...in...in...my third year in...in the seminary department. Alright, now I'm...I'm in a Baptist school, Chicago Baptist Institute, at 3820 South Michigan (that's were it was then; it's at 51st and King...South King Drive now)...now in the third year of school, one year before graduation in a Baptist school that does not condone or agree with women as ministers. And here it is, that night, I went up to the school, and I...I had not planned to tell the secretary what had happened. But when I...when I really realized anything I was up in the Deans office. I said, "Dean Mitchell, what do you think about women preachers." He said, [speaks in a deep voice] "Consuella, now you know we don't license or ordain women." He said, "But don't you allow me or anybody else to dictate to you what the Lord told you to do for you must give an account to the Lord for yourself." I said, "Thank you so much." I said, "Listen, well let me ask you this. If I get my seminary hours, can I get my seminary diploma?" He said, "Yes, if you get your seminary hours you can get your seminary diploma." He said, "Now I can't sanction you," and then he'd start bringing down to me, telling me the story about a Dr. Mary Evans, who was...who was pastor of the Cosmopolitan Community Church. She was a woman minister in the Community Church, and he was telling me how...what a rough time she'd had, but she'd actually built a church and got things together. [Tape recorder turned off; when restarted, recording at 7-1/2 i.p.s.] And...and...and he so said, "Now listen, I can't sanction you, but I'm going to drop some golden nuggets in my class." (He...he taught the kingdom of God class). He said, "I'm going to drop some golden nuggets, and you catch 'em cause it will help you as you are laboring." And I was sitting next to a girl in my kingdom of God class whose name was Helen Johnson. So I nudged her. I said, "Helen, suppose I tell you the Lord called me to preach." She said, "I know it. My mother dreamed it last night."
SHUSTER: About you?
YORK: About me. And..and I said, "Alright," so I sat comfortably there. And then I had to go downstairs to my New Testament class, and my professor's name was Dr. W. E. Wadlington. And he was on that scripture that's in I Timothy about "I suffer not a woman to teach or usurp authority over man" [I Timothy 2:2]. And for three weeks...(now he didn't know anything about my calling, and...and some of the students of the school had been airing it around, you know) I mean, and...and so for three weeks he...he talked about what a woman could not do, I mean in a church and usurp authority. In the meantime, when I...when I went home after that first session, and I was on my knees praying. I said, "Now Lord, I heard [pauses] You clearly...what you said to me. I won't ask you to remove anything from me. Just give me grace to stand to take whatever anybody says to me, and I'll do what You said to do. And...and...and I mean...I mean...I mean...I talked to the Lord about that, said,"Whatever You say do, I...I...I'll do that, I'll do that. Just give me the grace to stand and...and equip me so I can take it. So when the three weeks were finished, somebody said to me, "Consuella, I guess Dr. Wadlington has stopped you from preaching. I said, "He didn't call me so he can't stop me." And that was it. And my...I had to go to my different classes and my professors would say, "Consuella, you are one of our best students, but...." I said, "Listen, don't you worry about me and the Lord. You just teach me. And I'm no good to you anyhow, so you just teach me and I...and I...and I'll...I'll...I'll be alright. That's alright." I mean, and it was aired around in my homiletics class, you know; that's the art of preaching, you know. And...and...and...and...and they said, "Consuella, now you're one of my best students, but...." I said, "Well, it's a personal matter between the Lord and I." I said, "That's...so let's not bother about that." And I didn't give them any answer, I just continued. And as the Lord would have it, I graduated in June 1953 from the seminary department. In the meantime, the dean of the school had died, but I had all my hours in. And what made it such a...a...a...a [pauses] challenging situation was that I was secretary of the senior class, and in...in the yearbook you have to put your name down and your position. Now in the meantime, [unclear] [pauses]...Reverand [Clay] Evans will probably do the radio announcing now [microphone bumped, obscures words] Baptist church. He had...his church was just two years of age, and...and he knew that the Lord had called me to preach, I mean. So he said...and I hadn't been licensed. I hardly did anything 'cause Reverend Evans did that. And he knew I'd been called to preach. And I'd always help all the ministers. There were a lot of ministers in our class who had not....
SHUSTER: Now was he a classmate of yours at C.B.I.?
YORK: Yes, uh-huh, he was. I mean, and...and as it would have it, there were a lot of ministers in my class who worked everyday who did not have [pauses]...had not received a high school education, but the Lord had called them to preach and they were studying. And they had not...didn't have a good secular background and there were a lot of things in the study that were sort of difficult. And what I'd always do, in...in every class I attended, I'd sit there and take my notes and write it down and then simplify them, so that if I knew a minister had been working all day long and had had...didn't have a chance to study, I'd write the notes out and...write them down, and give them to all the ministers in my class so everybody could...could pass. I'd break it down for them and pass them in so when time comes they could pass, you know, because he had not, you know, had the secular training, though the Lord had called him to do that particular job. So Reverend Evans asked me to come and help them. Now I was a member of St. John's Baptist Temple, and Reverend C. Milton Newton Sr. was the...was the pastor, and I worked as his secretary and worked in the Sunday school and all different departments. And so when Reverend Evans asked me to come and help them in an ministerial capacity, having not been...as yet been then licensed...ordained because he licensed and ordained me, I went to him...pastor and asked...I said, "Reverend Evans would like for me to go and help him." Now see, that's the church I've been in since 1941, so I'd been there fourteen...almost fourteen years [pauses]...thirteen years, I mean, and [pauses] so by just serving not as a minister, but just as an announcing clerk and secretary, what have you. And...and I told him, I said, "I'd like for you to give me a letter granting me the privilege to go and work with them, doing all things decently and in order." So he....he...he wrote a letter, I mean, and said, "I release you. I know you're going to go there and help build the church up. But I'll let you go," you know. I mean, and...and...so he allowed me to come and be with Reverend Evans. In the mean time, Reverend Evans licensed me in 1953, I mean, a few months before I graduated. And so in this...in the yearbook I put down...they said "Put your position," I put Consuella York, assistant minister, Fellowship Baptist Church [claps hands]. Well, all the things were together, and when that thing hit...when the book hit the school, they opened it up. Listen, the Baptist...the Black Baptists went into a frenzy. "The Baptist Institute is putting out women ministers!" And they knew that that was not true, they just...just put down my position. And I did, I listened. They had...they had a newspaper called the Baptist Record. And I did all the work. In the mean time, I did all the work for Baptist churches. I did the church bulletins, I did the mimeographing and printing. I did all the theses for the different ministers, and so I...all of them knew me, you know. See, they'd come for me to help them with all their Christian work. I mean, and...so...they said, "The gall." They called Reverend Evans an upstart, they called him a radical, they said everything to him. But Reverend Evans' church was very small then. It didn't have but twenty-five members, so he didn't have any prestige or any...any qualms or fights with anybody. He was just doing what the Lord had called him to do, because he'd been seeing the Lord called him to preach and he had started this church. So listen, they were upset, they [pauses] they...they...they...they started branding the school. Dean Mitchell had died, and the assistant dean, Dr. Willie E. Johnson, was...he was...he was acting dean at the time. But I mean...and oh, they were upset, and they started writing articles in the Baptist minister's conference [that] said any man....
SHUSTER: So this is mainly Baptist ministers who were upset?
YORK: Yeah...yeah...yeah, Black Baptist ministers, you know, because in other churches, as you well know, in the Methodist and the Spiritual church, all the other churches, I mean, they've had women for a long number of years. See, but I knew what Baptists believe, and I knew the only thing that was contradicting my preaching was their traditional idea, it was nothing scriptural, because, they had taught us, in school that in...our religious axiom is that all souls have equal access to God. See, if all souls have equal access to God, He can do what He wants to with His own. And they had not read the Pentecostal experience in the second chapter of Acts when the Lord said, "In the last days I'll pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and [emphasizes "and"] your daughters shall prophesy, and upon my servants and my handmaidens I'll pour my spirit." [Acts 2:17-18] But they hadn't dealt with that. They'd deal with their traditional ideas, see. But I was aware of those things after having studied it, but I didn't...it was not an argumentative thing. You were just doing what the Lord said do. And so they were just disturbed, and they...they prevented from then until...until recent years...I guess it might be years...prevented any women from taking the seminary department course. And they wrote articles and they...I mean, they had petitions. They told Reverend Evans that "You will never be anything in the Baptist ministers conference because you had the nerve...." And as...a couple of times, I was the order of the day at the conference. And one of my professors, Dr. J. M. Royston, (he's expired now)...and he said, "Consuella, you're the order of the day at the ministers' conference." So he said, "Just come on in the church and sit down." It was at El Bethel Baptist Church at 57th and...what was it? I think it's Dearborn...I think it's 57th and Dearborn Street [really Lafayette Street]. And so I went over to the conference and sat down, and when I looked in the front and saw who was fighting me, it was ministers [for whom] I had been writing their sermons for years. So I wasn't disturbed by it. I said, "Oh, don't worry about it." I just laughed out. And they...then they were so upset. And so...of course, what makes it so amazing, I'd...I would do the scripts for the Baptist Record, the Baptist paper, so they brought their paper to me to edit the information. And so I...I re...rewrote what they said. I said, "If you're going to talk about me, put it in good English," you know. [both laugh] And I put...and they were trying to say, I put it down. But I mean...and...and it went...it went through, and then the Baptist Conference sent [clears throat] a minister over to Fellowship [Baptist Church] to see what we were doing over there, and the service was so spirited and the Holy Spirit was just moving in such a mighty way, but he came in to find some accusation. He said, "I'm going to leave this alone." And then...then I said, I mean...I mean...and so it...it went on through and they were very disturbed. But I finished my courses and I'd gone through with it and it was graduation time, so wasn't anything they could do then 'cause it was the.... This happened in...must have been... (I graduated in June) so it must have been March or April, so I was so close to graduating by then there wasn't anything for they could do about me. But it was too late then because I was getting ready to graduate. I mean, and all my hours were in so they didn't have any choice. And really, they would have to be hypocritical about it because of what was involved. But they really branded Reverend Evans. Oh, that man took a spiritual beating for me, but he held to the courage of his conviction. And I said to Reverend Evans in his office...I said, "Reverend," I said, "they're really after you about licensing me." And then he...then he ordained me in 1954. But I said, "But now, if we live right and walk aright before the Lord," I said, "it'll be like the case when Paul...they said that...I mean, that what Gamaliel said about Paul." I said, "If this thing is of man, it won't last, but if it's of God, you'll be accused of fighting against God." [Acts 5:38-39] I said, "All we have to do is just live right and represent the Lord and he'll do the work," I mean. And they said [to Reverend Evans], "Well, you can come to our church to preach, but you can't bring your assistant pastor." But see, I was his radio announcer so everybody knew me, you know. So he said, "Well now, if you don't want her to come, just don't invite me." But we just kept on being consi...consistent and following through. And...and he ended up in later years being president of the Baptist ministers conference. I mean, and the...the Lord continued to bless him as the folk would come to the church to see this Baptist preacher who has a woman assistant pastor. The Holy Spirit would convict them, they'd join the church, and I...I...I...I...I brought a lot of men to the church, you know, see. When the thing is of God, you only worry about the outcome, you just obey God, but it's costly, because they brand you. And Reverend Evans told me...now Reverend Evans has not ordained or licensed another woman. He said, "I did that because the Lord told me to do it. If I had to do it again, I'd do it again. But I haven't done it other...other than that," you know. But he just kept right on. And I...I'm still working with him, aside from pastoring a church. I'm still...I've always arranged my services to come and be with him, see. I mean...and...and in...every [?].... Now his broadcast is at night, which is quite convenient for me, but our...our service starts at one o'clock on Sunday because I go to jail earlier. While I'm at jail our Sunday school is going on [clears throat]. And when we finish, in the evening time...but we...we're not out till sometime about five-thirty or six o'clock. I have about an hour break or two, and then I...I get over to Reverend Evans' broadcast for his nine o'clock broadcast and his telecast. But I maintained that relationship, I mean...I mean...and he ordained me on March 26, 1954, and we started a afternoon Sunday school over at 424 East 46th Street. There's an elderly lady who was the founder of our...our mission, which eventually became Christ Way Baptist Church. And she'd work with me in St. John's Temple, and she'd always see the kids who would come from Wheaton [College] to...to...to...out to the South Side and pick up the children. And she said, "Now there ought to be some church in the area that would help these little children." Because in the area there was a middle class area, where...where.... (When folk become middle class they're not...there not as faithful to their church worship as they ought to be, so the children were left to go back and forth.) And she was sitting in her window looking and she said, "I ought to do something about this." Now, she's an aged woman because she died several years ago and she was a hundred and one when she died.
SHUSTER: And her name again was?
YORK: Charlotte B. Greenup, Charlotte B. Greenup. She was...had been a widow fifty years, I mean...I mean [pauses] before...when she started helping me, and...and so she was way up in age. But she was a member of St. John's Temple when...I think, the financial secretary...and she'd known me. We had worked together in the church together, she'd help me, she'd bring things for my children, 'cause my husband gone, and she'd always give me things, so she knew about my labor in church. So she asked her friend (her friend was named Pauline Lawrence, and Pauline Lawrence had a building; Miss Greenup's house was 432 East 46th Street and Miss Pauline Lawrence's building was 424 East 46th Street)...so she asked Miss Lawrence, she said, "Miss Lawrence, let me use your basement so we can gather these kids here in the evening and...and...and let them...and have somebody come to teach them in Sunday school about the Lord. So now she got...she'd secured the place, I mean and...and...and...and got the permission, had it all there, and she said...after she'd done it she said, "I'm too old to be going up and running down stairs to see about children." She said she was sitting in the window and she said the Lord said to her, "Call Consuella." Now...now...and...and so she called me and I was working with Reverend Evans as I said. She said, "Consuella, how'd you like to have an afternoon Sunday school?" I said, "That's an answer to prayer." She said, "Well alright. Well, come over here, and I want you to get some handbills out and distribute it, you and some of your helpers in this area, so that you can get these kids to afternoon Sunday school. And I had a friend, her name was Cardetta [pauses] Woosley (I mean, she ended up being Cardetta Williams 'cause I married her off) and Reverend Jethro Price. He was a fellow working with me. He...we've done mission work together at the county hospital [Cook County Hospital] and he was a student at...at Baptist Institute, too. And we got together and we started going in the afternoons picking the children up. We started afternoon Sunday school, and how we got organized into a church was this....
SHUSTER: Can we...before we go into that can we back up for a little bit, and...?
SHUSTER: You talked about how your father eventually came to approve of your being a preacher and supported you. Did he ever give you any advice about preaching or about being a pastor?
YORK: Well, he always, you know, I...I...I told him what I planned to do. He said, "Well, that's alright," because he was always there you know. I mean, he's actually the one who named the church. He's the one...he's the one that named the church, I mean. At first we called it Salvation Mission, and then he named it, said, "Call it Christ Way Baptist Church. Do it the Christ way." And he named the church. And then he'd always, you know, I mean he...he knew that I [pauses] had a seminary training, you know, that I'd break it down, but I'd always listen whenever he'd preach. You always glean things by hearing the elders, you know, but...but...but if I preached, he said, "That was very good," you know, "very good." He said, "Continue to study," you know, he said. He'd...I...I [pauses] got to...became affiliated with a Pentecostal preacher, but...but before my father always said, "Stand still, rise high, catch fire, and sit down." [Shuster laughs] You know, very intellectual. "So don't be so fired up." That's a different st...a different...another story as we come into the...the [pauses].... He'd always assist me in...you know, in that kind of realm, you know. He...he...because that's how I got the [pauses] scholarship at the Gray Institute [Baptist Institute]. It was an oratorical contest. And whenever I was going to speak someplace, he'd always be right there and listen. He'd always..."Daughter, that was fine," you know, or he'd say to "carry your voice up a little higher or tone it down." I mean, "Do it good." Because he said, "Study your lessons," so he'd always be there to encourage me, you know, because he did a lot of speaking himself, so he always encouraged me.
SHUSTER: How would you describe your mother?
YORK: My mother was a very passive woman. She was quiet. I never heard my mother raise her voice [pauses] above a monotone. She was very quiet. My mother died in 1942, and she died...a leakage to the heart. And she said to me...she said I...I'd...I'd have a lot of domestic problems. And she said to me...she said, "I have only one regret in dying: that you're so much like me because you take everything inside. You don't see...you don't let it come out." She said, "I'd like to tell you something," she said. "If you're hurting express it. If you're happy express it. She said, "It's easier on your heart." My mother loved the Lord. My mother...my mother whipped me one time. I was in high school, and I was on the honor role (at Wendell Phillips High School; I graduated from Wendell Phillips in June 1940) and it was the second marking period (not the third 'cause I would have been off the honor role and I would have been in trouble, sure enough)...the second marking period, and I got a F in geometry [pauses], I mean, and...and I didn't think I deserved a F but I got a F. So my mother always checked the course book. And she checked the course book. She said, "Connie." I said, "Yes ma'am. She said, "I see a F in geometry". She said, "How did you get it? I said, "The teacher gave it to me." [Shuster laughs] She said, "I'm going to prevent the teacher from ever giving you another F." And Dr. Shuster, my mother never raised her voice. [She] just took that strap and tore me up! Now, I didn't feel justified in getting a F, but I guarantee you I never got another one. [Shuster laughs] And...and listen...and in...then in those days, in...in...in...in...in 1939...'38 and '39, we had lamps in our house and lanterns in our hallways. I'd have to come in from school and clean the lamp chimney and get the oil in the lamps. I'm talking about here in Chicago, there was a lot of...we had a lot of...I mean a lot of poverty in Chicago, a lot of poverty. Folks talk about poverty down South. We had poverty in Chicago and I'd have to, I mean, come home in the evening and see about my sister and make the fire and get things together, 'cause my mother worked at [pauses] County Hospital, you know, I mean, in the dietary department. I mean, so I had to clean...those lamp globes and what not. But...but I guarantee you, any time there's another question about geometry, Miss Wattawa would say, "What's the first proposition?" my hand was up, my hand was up. But she [York's mother] never, never got out of order, she's just always quiet whatever happened, she'd take it you know. She said...I mean...she loved the Lord. She was a praying woman. She loved the Lord, just kind and considerate, was always working, doing all she could to help us. Never fighting back, never...never provocative, just loving God and loving me. We had a lot in common, you know, my...my...my being the baby girl. She...she saw the direction I was going in the Lord, and, you know.... And had...me had domestic problems, I wouldn't fight back, I'd always just keep it inside. She said, "Aw, just..." she said, "just let it out. If you're happy, expel it. If you're sad, just tell it, 'cause it'll be easier on your heart."
SHUSTER: And did you try and do that afterwards?
YORK: Yes, I did. I...I started doing it, you know. If I was hurting I...I'd...I'd...I'd...express it. If I was happy, I'd express it. Before, I just...I...I couldn't understand a lot of changes I'd have to go through, you know, why you go through these changes. Because....because being reared in the church and maintaining the right thing in mind, you wonder why you go through a lot of reverses. But I...I see it was for my good, you know. And after I was married and my husband went to the army, and then he came back, he left me and I had a...one son, my oldest boy, the one who died. I mean, and then...and when he came back from the army, he was gone four years, and when he came back from the army, he was back in town before he came over to where we were living. Then he came home. Then I became pregnant with my second child. And then, when the baby was a month old, he left and moved back to his mother, you know. And I...I always kept things inside, 'cause I was the secretary of the church all the time, I mean, and I'd...I'd work in the church and I'd take my youngest...my oldest boy, who was Luke.
SHUSTER: This was your father's church.
YORK: I mean [pauses], no...th...that was, no that was...this was another church. See, when I was real young that was Sweethome, but in 1941, my father joined St. John's Baptist Temple, that's...I mean that's the minister who allowed me to come and be with Reverend Evans. So I was a member there, you know, working in...in that church. So...so [unclear] it is I...I became the secretary to the first pastor, Reverend O. W. Williams. He expired and then Reverend S. E. Parker became the second pastor and I was secretary to him. And then the new pastor came, Reverend [C. Milton Sr.] Newton. I was secretary, then and I did the church bulletins, and...I mean, and all of the filing of the church for him. But they'd let me bring my children to the church. I'd bring little Luke to the church and when he got sleepy, I'd put him on the...on the floor, you know, and did all of my church work, you know. See, and my father being one of the associate ministers there, you know. I mean, and...and...and I...I was struggling with my children and the folk knew that...that my husband was gone, so I...I...I used the same method my father and mother used. I...I...I didn't use the domestic problem as a...as a reason to not be faithful to the Lord. I'd take my kids up and I...I'd be...come right out to church. I said, "If I earn my livelihood and maintain it...." The folk of the church were extremely good to me. They knew that I had two small children. The folks would bring me up as.... It was a middle class church in the area. The folk who had...who... who...who wore my size clothing would bring clothing, I mean, to the church in a shopping bag. They'd say, "Consuella, we're getting ready to go. There's a bag in the back," you know. And I'd be dressed up every Sunday morning, 'cause I'd sit there in church, had to read the bulletins. So I...I'd...and every Sunday they'd say, "What...what kind of material is that skirt you got on?" I said, "I really didn't know...don't know, I didn't pay for it." If it was wool in June it didn't bother me, because they'd given it to me, they said, because I was always out in the foreground. I knew that if you live right the Lord will always sustain you, you know. And I...and I...I...and I...I...and so...but when I was carrying that second boy, my husband had gone, I...I was very...I was very hurt. I said, "Now my husband has been gone four years. I've been a faithful wife and he comes home and he goes back to his mother," and what not, and I said...it was kind of rough. And...and I think of it now, my little boy, he's the minister of music at our church, and he's like that. He's very passive, you know. I mean, sometimes I see a blurt of anger spring up in him, but all during the time I was carrying him, I'd be thinking, "Lord, now why do you let me go through all of these changes?" I don't question Him now, I know it was for His...for my good as I labor with His people now, because if you don't, you can't teach what you don't know, you can't lead, where you don't go. If you've never suffered, you...you don't know how to deal with folks who are suffering, if you've never been heartbroken. You know how to deal with folk who are in that same category. So I know the Lord was working those things out. But then I...being young, I didn't know. I said, "Why, dear Lord, why...why do I have to go through all this? But I didn't fight back and I didn't turn to the world as a result. I'd just try to get closer to the Lord, you know. I said, "Well Lord, you know." I kept on being faithful, engross myself in the church work, and take my kids right along with me, and I didn't.... And I was pregnant...I mean I was pregnant, with that middle boy. I was at the church working. I'd just stand up and look out the window when I'd come home, I mean, and...and I'd say, "Well Lord, you understand." I mean, and...and...and...and then I...I...I found out that it was for my betterment. And right now, I mean, I...I see the results of it. So, and that's why the Lord comes in blesses at our church. I mean, whenever...when the folk...folk would have a lot of trouble at church, mainly when we...I mean, they sing the old songs the water runs down your eyes 'cause you're crying, because they sing those songs about having hard times, you've been through the stormy rain. So every Sunday, well, if I'd make it through Sunday, when the minister starts to talking, I'd...I mean about having rough times, I'd...I'd just... holler and scream every Sunday, 'cause it was...it was! But then as I started walking closer with the Lord, and then the Holy Spirit takes full control, I realized that that suffering was a means of going through, so I started rejoicing rather than screaming and...and hollering. 'Cause I...you...you, that's a way of expelling it. I tell a lot of folk in church, they holler real loud, because they've had so many problems. When somebody hits or rings a bell, you respond to it. But see, then I responded in grief, but now I respond in joy, because I recognize those things were the makings of you. If you don't suffer, you can't reign, you know. So they....
SHUSTER: When...going back to your...to your mom for a second, when...did she have a lot of responsibilities in the church? I mean did she...?
YORK: No, no my mother never....[pauses] As I said she died in 1942, but she...she never took a...any leading role, you know. She just...she just kept a low profile. And when she and my father were separated, my...my...my stepfather was a spiritual [pauses] preacher, but even then she always kept a low profile. She never, you know...she was never outgoing, she always was quiet [digital watch alarm sounds].
SHUSTER: How old were you when your parents separated?
YORK: Let's see, I must have been [pauses] (they separated in 1935)...I must have been thirteen. But...but even then...but my mother and father separated, they...they...they never argued. You never...my father never argued. I...sometimes I'd hear a little whisper, with the door closed and he was saying something to my mother, 'cause he was very provocative. But they never argued in front of us. But I knew there was something out of order, and when they got ready to separate, they...(it was 1931) they sent my sister and I...(she was a year older than me) they sent us down South to my grandmother, who lived in Nashville, Tennessee. And we stayed in Nashville, Tennessee four years, from '31 to '35. And...but when we...when I came back home, in 1935, my mother and father were separated. But...but...but... but...but he always kept a close contact...even being separated, he'd always kept a close contact all the time back and forth, you know. He never...he never let any division come between. We'd always have a close proximity, you know. Because, I mean sh...she'd gone through so much passively with him, I mean, under the scene. It was never anything that was out. It was one of those quiet disagreeamental things, you know, but...but...but she...she never even then. So...so when we come back, they were separated and my brother was with my father, me and my...my...the three girls.... I had an older sister who stayed with my mother, and then my...my sister next to me, the one I'm next to rather, and so, but.... And they never discussed it, they never brought it up. She...my mother never fought against wh...what had happened. She didn't...see my mother she just took it, you know. And I learned in later years, you know, all the changes that she'd gone through with...with my father, you know, with him seeing other women, you know. But my mother never fought back, she never said anything...that never did anything out of order, you know. Always set the kind of example that you...you could actually look on her, and think, "Well, she was a good example, even in difficulties." And as I see in life, as I go through life, I can see some of the same changes in me and I...I start to do the same thing, and having problems with men. "Never...never bring bitterness in the hearts of children and discuss the shorts [shortcomings]," I said, because when they get of age I've noticed a lot of parents, they tell the children, "Your father's no good," and this that and the other. I said, "But...but down inside they still love them, and they're going to be just like them if the Lord doesn't alter." So...so...just...you just say, "Well, we just had a difference," but try to blend, it for the sake of the children, you know. And...and...and that's the way that worked you know. But she was always passive, always setting a good example.
SHUSTER: So when you came back to Chicago, then you lived with you mother?
YORK: I lived with my mother, see, I mean and...and...and...I mean...I lived...we lived at 3731 Federal Street. That's were we had lamp light. Then I went to Wendell Phillips High School, then I went to Progressive Baptist Church, went in Sunday school, the churches were right close, I mean, and...active. I taught Sunday school there, you know, and then...I mean, right there in the area. Went to school, you had to do your chores, and had your work to do. Always...never outside of the church at all, you know. It was a must, you know. I'd had...we had a coal stove, so I'd had to pick up wood every time. Right now, it's...it's ironic but true, for now I see them tearing down buildings. I remember days when they were tearing down buildings between where we lived, 'cause Wendell Phillips High School is at 39th Prairie Avenue. We lived at 37th and Federal, which is about nine blocks away. But on the way home from school...and if they were tearing down a building, I'd just stop and pick up some...I mean those little pieces of thin wood, you know, I mean, and bring them in to help make the fire, you so that I could get things together, I mean. And so when mother came home from... from work, I'd have the fire made and have the food cooked so she could sit down and enjoy the food, you know. Then as soon as she'd come in the food was ready, I could get into my books, you know, and get my lesson, you know. So I still think about it. I say, "You'd...you'd always reminisce." I mean...I said...listen, a lot of our tenants and members and friends would tell me, "I'm going to call the Board of Health. We don't have any heat." I said, "You should have been born around where I lived at. You should have been raised.... [Shuster laughs] We were the Board of Health. If you didn't make a fire you didn't have any heat." It was like that.
SHUSTER: Where did your mother work at?
YORK: I mean, at the...see be...before she and my father separated, she didn't work. She was always at home. But then after...after my father and mother separated, I mean, [pauses] then my mother worked at Count...Cook County Hospital. She worked in the dietary department, you know. And I used to remember some days when she'd come in, she'd have...I mean, some butter on the bread that she, you know, brought from the hospital...coup...I mean, a couple of butter sandwiches she'd brought in, you know. But always I'd try to make it my business to have the food together for her when she'd come in. See then, in 1935, you could make a full meal for a dollar. See I'd go to the store, and [pauses] maybe...I learned how to cook. My grandma taught me how to cook...I learned how to cook. And being the youngest, I had to ('cause my oldest sister had a little daughter). So I had to be the baby sitter and the nursemaid and the cook, and all those things, laundress. But it was a joy. It wasn't any problem. It was a joy. Whatever she wanted done. I said, "She's got to work," and I knew that she was going through some changes, I mean, mentally, I mean, because of what she was encountering." So I did everything I could to make things easier for her so she'd have some joy, you know. And she'd just be proud and glad, you know.
SHUSTER: I'm sure it was a great blessing to her to have a daughter like you, too.
YORK: But you know what, I mean, Dr. Shuster? I just think it's the Lord's doing, because my...my [pauses]...you jump out of the frying pan into the fire. You don't realize it in your quest for love and happiness, you don't un...you don't realize the changes one goes through and have to go through some changes. But my father and then...then...then with my stepfather, he was a...he was half Indian and so he was stern and upsetting, but she just took it in stride. My oldest sister got sick and she had tuberculosis, and...and I was just thinking of how things worked out. And my mother loved grapes and fruit and what not, I mean, and my father knew she had some money, then he would sort of lim...tell her the limit...and...and...and...and, "You can't use this for that." But my mother...my sister was in County Hospital, that was...which was quite a way from where we were living in 'cause we had moved several times, I mean. And so, I went to stay with my father a little while. But what I would do, I'd walk from my father's house back down to where my mother was, I mean, and take her some money, and I'd slip it to her. I said, "So that when you get ready to go to the hospital, get you some grapes on the way, and eat 'em up." I said, "By the time you come home, he won't know nothing about it." And she'd...and so it's a long distance. You leave an hour, half going and coming. But you know, I...I...I...I learned early in life that love is a thing that will hold everything together. That's my premise now. And so I knew that I understood her and she understood me, so I'd do the things to just make it nice for her undercover, so that whatever she's going through with, she wouldn't have to show the impact of it, you know. She could adjust herself to whatever's going on because she knew undercover, there was somebody who loved her and was concerned and so that was it. So even in poverty, even being without, I mean, she was lonely, but she was not alone. She had the love of God and then the love.... And so I didn't make it open, I mean [pauses] and so it was easier for her. I know when I was smaller, she'd always...I'd had a little...little candy, I...I had a little candy store downstairs. I'd sell banana splits and what not, and I'd save all the money in a tobacco sack, so that around Christmas time I could go up to Woolworth, that's...and buy her something. And when she expired all those things I'd bought her was still there. She'd just look at them and put them down there, but you know. She always had them there, so it was real joy.
SHUSTER: What was your stepfather's name?
YORK: His name was Jones, Nelson Jones.
SHUSTER: Nelson Jones. And when did you give your life to Christ? When did you...?
YORK: When I was...when I...when I was twelve years old, that...that...that...I give my life to Christ in 1935 while I was down...the year I came back from Nashville, Tennessee. Down there, Nashville, Tennessee, right up from the hill from my grandmother's house was a church called First Corinthian Baptist Church.
SHUSTER: I'm going to take a break. The tape's almost out...
SHUSTER: ...so we'll take this [first reel of tape] off and then we'll pick up from....
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