Collection 397 Papers of Consuella York
Scope and Contents
Clippings, photographs, cards, sermons, handbooks, oral history interviews and other records mainly relating to Consuella York's ministry as a chaplain at the Cook County Jail, but also describing her childhood growing up on the south side of Chicago, her conversion, religious education, and work as a pastor.
The materials in this collection consist of miscellaneous items from Rev. York's life, mostly relating to her prison ministry. They include newspaper and magazine clippings, volunteer manuals and forms, card from prisoners, transcripts, tapes of oral history interviews, certificates, and a video tape about her work. Most of the materials in the files, including her ordination and Chicago Baptist Institute certificates in folder 1-3 are duplicates. A few of these copies were made by the archives staff but most of them were among the material received about by the archives. Most of the materials in the collection date from 1976 and after. The material was organized into files by the archivist.
- Created: 1953-1994
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.
Consuella Batchelor was born on July 26, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois. She was one of four children of John L. and Consuella Batchelor. John was a Baptist preacher and he hoped that his son would follow him into the ministry, but the son died young. Prior to her parents’ separation in 1931, Consuella and one of her sisters went to live with their maternal grandmother in Tennessee for the next four years. Consuella returned to Chicago in 1935 to live with her mother and her stepfather Nelson Jones. Also in 1935, during a church service, she committed her life to Christ. She attended Wendell Phillips high school and helped out in various ways around the home while her mother worked at Cook County Hospital to support the family. After graduating from Phillips in 1940, Consuella took a business and shorthand course in the evening. About this same time, she married for the first time to Luke Keel. In 1942, her son, Luke, was born, followed by a second son, Thomas. Consuella's mother died in Tennessee in 1942.
After the birth of her second son, Consuella's husband abandoned her and she eventually divorced him. In 1948 she married Charles York and a year later her third son, John, was born. (She later adopted two more children - Frederick Harvey and Virginia Franklin). Because she was afraid of the effect her husband's alcoholism would have on the children, she separated from him in 1950. For several years she supported herself and her children by running a small mimeograph and printing business.
In 1948 she won an oratorical contest, and her prize was the first year's tuition at the Chicago Baptist Institute. She took courses to improve her Bible knowledge and speaking skills and eventually completed the entire seminary course. At the same time, she was continuing to run her business as well as manage a small storefront assistance program for drug addiction, alcoholics and derelicts which she had started. She went with a friend named Mrs. Oglesby in February 1952 on what was intended to be a one-time visit to prisoners in the Cook County Jail. But the plight of these men deeply moved her and she felt a call from God to work with them. The next day she felt another strong call to preach. Despite opposition from her father, teachers and friends (who all were opposed to women preachers) she persevered in her dedication to her call. She graduated from CBI in 1953 and in March 1954 she was ordained by her classmate, Reverend Clay Evans of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Evans for years was virtually ostracized by other Baptist ministers because of his action in ordaining her. From 1953 to her death, York continued to work with him as assistant pastor of the church and announcer of Evan's weekly radio and television program, the What A Fellowship Hour.
From the time of her visit in 1952, Rev. York made visits to the Cook County jail three times a week to talk with the prisoners; give them small gifts such as food, soap or toothpaste; and lead Bible classes and worship services. She also visited state and federal prisons in the area. She also recruited others to work with her in jail ministry and trained them in how to act and relate to prisoners. In 1975 she was appointed chaplain of the jail and continued in her ministry there for the rest of her life.
York was involved in many other activities as well. In 1954, she had begun to run a children's Sunday school started by Mrs. Charlotte B. Greener. Adults also became interested in the services and in November the congregation founded the Christ Way Baptist Church (from 1976 on at 1210 62nd Street in Woodlawn), with Rev. York as pastor, as she continued to be throughout her life. She also developed many programs to provide housing, food and job training to the needy. Mother York received over the years numerous tokens of recognition of her work, including the Salvation Army's Chaplain of the Year Award in 1983. In 1989 a documentary about her work which appeared on the ABC network was broadcast around the world.
Rev. York died on December 11, 1995, of a heart attack while working at her church.
0.75 Linear Feet (2 Boxes (DC); Audio Tapes, Oversize Materials, Photographs, Video Tapes)
Language of Materials
Arrangement of Materials
[NOTE: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "Folder 2-6" means Box 2, Folder 6.]
Series: Audio Tapes
Tapes 1-4 contain oral history interviews with York. Topics covered are mainly concerned York's ministry as a chaplain at the Cook County Jail, but also describe her childhood growing up on Chicago's South Side, conversion, religious education, and work as a pastor. Events described in the interviews cover the time period from 1923 to 1989.
Reverend York was interviewed by Robert Shuster on July 19 and November 21, 1988. The first interview took place at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, the second at the Christ Way Baptist Church in Chicago. The time period covered by the interviews was approximately 1923 to 1989. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded in the left hand column below, topics discussed in the right hand column. The index is keyed to the cassette copy and not the reel-to-reel original.
Tapes 5-6 contain sermons or messages delivered by York.
Two photographs files arranged topically:
PRISONS--MISSIONS AND CHARITIES. Scenes of Rev. York leading Bible classes and talking with individuals at Cook County Jail and Logan State Prison. A few photos of prisoner classes do not include York. 1977, 22 b&w and color; undated
YORK, CONSUELLA. Portrait photo of Rev. Consuella York. 1 b&w; undated.
Series: Video Tapes
V1 - VHS cassette containing the program Mother York: A Life Sentence. This program was produced by the Beverly Price Company and is narrated by Bill Campbell. It describes York's work at the Cook County Jail and has numerous scenes of her counseling, visiting and preaching. There are also interviews about her with Spencer Leak, the executive director of the jail; Reverend Clay Evans; Elder Ernest Grace of the Open Door Drug Ministry and an ex-offender; Hal Baskin, an ex-offender; Thomas Wochowski, a jail guard; Abdul Rasheed Akbar, an ex-offender; and Shirley Rhone, a guard. Also on the video are scenes of York preaching at the Christ Way Baptist Church. There are some blank spaces on the tape for the insertion of commercials. Approximately 30 minutes. Color. 1989.
V2 – VHS cassette. An episode of a Dutch television program, Overal en Nergens (All Over the Place) entitled “De Zware Jongens van Mother York” (The Tough Guys of Mother York). The first few minutes are in Dutch, but most of the interviews that make up the program are in English. Besides Rev. York, prison officials, prisoners, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and others are interviewed about her ministry. The program also includes many scenes of her work at the prison and her preaching at her church. 31 minutes. Color. 1991. There is also a Dutch article, possibly related to this program, in folder 2-4.
Series: Paper Records (Box List)
There is a little in the collection about York's non-prison activities. Folder 1-3 has not only her CBI diploma and ordination certificate (see also folders 2-6 and 2-10) but also an anniversary booklet from the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church which contains some information on her work there as assistant pastor and radio announcer. The book describes the growth of the church between 1950 and 1970 under the leadership of Rev. Clay Evans. There is a little bit in the volume about Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was an associate minister of the church (see also video V2), as well as a paragraph on Evans work in Operation Push. Folder 1-3 also has the transcript of a brief oral history interview done of Rev. York in 1984 by Chicago Theological Seminary student Margaret Neal. In that transcript York talks about her call to preach, the attacks she has received as a woman preacher, the influence of Agatha Avery on her life, her jail ministry, and the activities of the Christ Way Baptist Church. Folder 2-13 contains another school project by Carissa Bryant about York’s ministry. Some of the newspaper clippings in folder 1-2 include brief biographical data on York, although all are mostly concerned with her jail ministry. She talks a good deal about her early years on the oral history tapes in this collection, as described below. Tape T5 contains one of her sermons, preached in 1979. There is additional biographical information in folders 2-9 and 2-13. Box 2 contains a notebook of programs, correspondence, clippings and much else, mostly about her prison ministry but with some reference to her other activities. Apparently, Rev. York kept the notebook to hold mementos from his ministry. Because the materials in the notebook were stored in plastic sheets that were beginning to bond with the documents, the Archives removed the documents from the sheets and stored them in folders. The physical notebook and all its contents are in box 2.
The rest of the paper records in the collection are exclusively with her work as jail and prison chaplain. The clippings in folders 1-2 and 2-4 are from newspapers, magazines and prison newsletters. There is another set of clippings in the Oversize file. The information in the articles is generally repetitive, although in some case there are fresh facts and more detailed descriptions. Folders 1-1 and 2-8, as well as a folder in the oversize file, contains handmade cards by prisoners to York on different occasions, including the death of her son in 1988. File 1-4 contains different documents related to jail ministry such as the forms volunteers have to fill out at the Cook County Jail, the orientation manual of the Fundamental Evangelical Christian Jail Workers (called the Fundamental Christian Jail Workers on the cover) and the form that new members fill out, a handbook for volunteers put out by the American Correctional Association, a questionnaire prisoners fill out for the chaplain describing their religious background and their needs, a handout intended for potential volunteers on the necessity of jail ministry; and some sheets prepared by York on how to counsel prisoners. Folder 1-3 has an undated transcript, apparently of a talk by York in which she describes the relevance of the Bible passages Matthew 25 and Hebrews 13:1-2 to jail ministry, the needs of men in prison, and how she came involved in helping alcoholics and drug addicts in her neighborhood. Folder 2-12 contains programs from ceremonies held at various churches and correctional institutions to celebrate Rev. York’s ministry.
Accruals and Additions
The material in this collection was received by the Billy Graham Center Archives from Rev. York in October 1987; May, July, August, and November 1988, January 1989, and June 1994.
Accession 87-129, 88-60
88-82, 88-85, 88-129, 89-8
June 21, 1989
December 18, 1995, Revised
August 16, 2022
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- Collection 397 Papers of Consuella York
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