Black Roots of Pentecostalism

The first "Pentecostals" in the modern sense appeared on the scene in 1901 in the city of Topeka, Kansas in a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and former Methodist pastor. It was not until 1906, however, that Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour. He learned about the tongues-attested baptism in a Bible school that Parham conducted in Houston, Texas in 1905. Invited to pastor a black holiness church in Los Angeles in 1906, Seymour opened the historic meeting in April, 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles.

What happened at Azusa Street has fascinated church historians for decades and has yet to be fully understood and explained. For over three years, the Azusa Street "Apostolic Faith Mission" conducted three services a day, seven days a week, where thousands of seekers received the tongues baptism. Word of the revival was spread abroad through The Apostolic Faith, a paper that Seymour sent free of charge to some 50,000 subscribers. From Azusa Street Pentecostalism spread rapidly around the world and began its advance toward becoming a major force in Christendom.

The Azusa Street movement seems to have been a merger of white American holiness religion with worship styles derived from the African-American Christian tradition which had developed since the days of chattel slavery in the South. The expressive worship and praise at Azusa Street, which included shouting and dancing, had been common among Appalachian whites as well as Southern blacks. The admixture of tongues and other charisms with black music and worship styles created a new and indigenous form of Pentecostalism that was to prove extremely attractive to disinherited and deprived people, both in America and other nations of the world.

The interracial aspects of the movement in Los Angeles were a striking exception to the racism and segregation of the times. The phenomenon of blacks and whites worshipping together under a black pastor seemed incredible to many observers. The ethos of the meeting was captured by Frank Bartleman, a white Azusa participant, when he said of Azusa Street, "The color line was washed away in the blood." Indeed, people from all the ethnic minorities of Los Angeles, a city which Bartleman called "the American Jerusalem," were represented at Azusa Street.

In recognition of Black History Month, the Holy Spirit Research Center is highlighting some resources below that showcase the African American origins of the Pentecostal Movement. The HSRChas a number of studies on the Azusa Street Mission, William Seymour, C.H. Mason, and African Pentecostalism.

Books on Black Pentecostalism

Martin Luther King's Last Speech from Mason Temple

Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech was delivered at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, the flag ship church of C.H. Mason's historically black Pentecostal denomination, the Churches of God in Christ.

Read more about Mason Temple:

Oral Roberts and Racial Reconciliation

Oral Roberts was a pioneer within the Christian community for his views on racial inclusion in American Society. In the 1950's, Roberts took a bold stand and refused to segregate his tent crusades, even in the Jim Crow South. This stance was unpopular even among many of his supporters in the Pentecostal community. But Roberts declared, "I will not segregate the altar of God."

In the 1960's, Roberts started ORU during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Roberts and often took public stances against segregation and racism. Here is an open letter Roberts published in his magazine, The Abundant Life, in March of 1968.

In 1968, Roberts was invited by black pastors from Harlem to discuss how his crusades could help bring hope and healing to the black community. You can see the photo of his meeting with these pastors below. You can listen to Roberts talk about this meeting here.

Oral Roberts' racial vision continues today at ORU, which has continued to be a place of racial diversity and inclusion.

Notable African American Alumni