From Kansas in 1905, Charles Fox
Parham took a band of his protégés into Texas. There he preached,
distributed his The Apostolic Faith newspaper, won
converts, and set up a non-credit Bible school.
Parham’s Bible School in Houston, Texas
One of the students attracted to the
school was a former
waiter and southern Holiness preacher, William J. Seymour.
In the Jim Crow South, Seymour, a black, could take
part in the Bible studies only by sitting in the hallway
outside Parham's classroom.
After only a few weeks of
listening to Parham, Seymour received an invitation to
pastor a small Los Angeles church of Baptists expelled
from their congregation for espousing Holiness doctrines.
Seymour carried more than his luggage to California. He
boarded the steam train in the Houston depot with
enthusiasm and Parham's finely tuned statement of faith
The 35-year-old Seymour was
an unlikely ambassador of the Pentecostal message: he
was the son of slaves, not a gifted speaker, lacking in
social skills, had almost no formal education, and was
blind in one eye. But perhaps his greatest handicap was
the fact that he had never spoken in tongues, even
though he preached that such a sign should be a part of
every believer's experience.
He chose Acts 2:4 as the
text for his first sermon at the mission on Santa Fe
Street in Los Angeles: "And they were all filled
with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other
tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
His message, that speaking in tongues was the
"Bible evidence" of baptism in the Spirit, was
well received by the congregation but not by the
pastor, Julia Hutchins. It is unclear how long
she let Seymour teach such things, but she soon
had the door padlocked shut against him.
Seymour and most of the congregation found an
open door for ministry in the Edward Lee home
where he was boarding. The Lees and a small
group had been praying for a another Great
Awakening, a Welsh-type revival that would turn
Los Angeles upside down. And they believed that
Seymour might be the catalyst.
When the Lee home grew too small for the
interracial crowd that gathered for Seymour's
Bible studies and prayer meetings, Richard and
Ruth Asberry opened their home at 214 (now 216)
North Bonnie Brae Street, even though they then
disagreed with some of his teaching.
On April 9,
1906, Edward Lee asked Seymour to pray for
him that he would be given the gift of
tongues. When Seymour prayed, Lee spoke in
tongues, fulfilling a vision he said he had
received in which the apostles taught him
how to speak in tongues.
Seymour immediately left for the
Asberry home Bible study and prayer meeting,
where he again preached from Acts 2:4 and
related Lee's experience. As he continued
his study, someone else began speaking in
tongues. Others followed. Jennie Moore,
Seymour's future wife, sat down at the piano
and improvised a tune while singing what she
thought was Hebrew.
The meetings began at 10 a.m., and
continued for at least 12 hours, often
lasting until two or three the next morning.
both black and white faces descended on
the Asberry home over the next several
days. On April 12, the first white man
spoke in tongues. More importantly,
Seymour, "the prophet of Pentecost to
finally received his
same day, the Asberry's front porch
gave way from the weight of the
crowds. That's when leaders
negotiated a lease for the former
Stevens African Methodist Episcopal
Church at 312 Azusa Street.
windows were knocked out. Debris
littered the floor. Its last
occupants had been livestock,
since it had most recently been
used as a stable.
It was more like the rustic
outdoor camps of the Holiness
movement than the
stained-glass churches of the
distrusted denominations. And
since it was not in a
residential area, meetings
could go all night.
Within a week, a makeshift
pulpit, altar, and benches
graced what the Times
reporter called the
"tumble-down shack" where
"colored people and a
sprinkling of whites"
practice the "most fanatical
rites, preach the wildest
theories, and work
themselves into a state of
mad excitement in their
The article, published
almost immediately after
the group's move to the
new church, took Seymour
to task, too: "An old
colored exhort [he was
only 35], blind in one
eye, is the majordomo of
the company," the
reporter wrote. "With
his stony optic fixed on
unbeliever, the old man
yells his defiance and
an answer. Anathemas are
heaped upon him who
shall dare to gainsay
the utterances of the
knew the Pentecostal
teaching would be
was adamant about what
he had learned and
experienced. The Holy
Spirit, he said, "will
find pure channels to
flow through, sanctified
avenues for his power….
You will never have an
experience to measure
with Acts 2:4 … until
you get your personal
Pentecost or the baptism
with the Holy Ghost and
Let the tongues come
September the church
reported that about
13,000 people had
gospel. It is
churches who do not
and lose the
have. Those who are
older in this
greater signs and
there were periods
of silence in the
meetings, where even
believers sat still,
most of the meetings
were electric, loud,
and unlike the
services of "any
company of fanatics,
even in Los Angeles,
the home of almost
The meetings began
at 10 a.m., and
continued for at
least 12 hours,
often lasting until
two or three the
but when he did,
he would often
take out a tiny
Bible and read
only one or two
words at a time.
Then he would
walk the room,
at altars to
"let the tongues
come forth!" or
There were no
of the time
there were no
around the room,
men jumped and
danced and sang.
other times the
Come," "Fill Me
and "Love Lifted
Me." At various
would be "slain
under the power
of God" or
come in to
of the same
find them in
a short time
make them as
But to all
Though reports of the miraculous were sometimes exaggerated, the church didn't mask the revival's problems. Seymour wrote several letters to Parham asking advice in dealing with spiritualists and mediums from occult societies, who were trying to conduct séances in the services. And the church publicly admitted that not everyone at the meetings felt the presence of the Spirit:
“ While some in the rear are opposing and arguing, others are at the altar falling down under the power of God and feasting in the good things of God. The two spirits are always manifest, but no opposition can kill, no power in earth or hell can stop God's work."
A future general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, Ernest S. Williams, drawn to Azusa Street from Denver, was turned off by the more fanatical elements, but he also sensed vitality:
"On the brink of turning away," he said, "a great check came over my spirit. Then I began to seek earnestly."
Chicago pastor William Durham was also somewhat skeptical of the meetings, having heard conflicting reports, but he reported, "As soon as I entered the place, I saw that God was there."
Many of the thousands who poured into 312 Azusa Street between 1906 and 1909 heard the revival news through the widely circulated The Apostolic Faith. The paper not only kept readers abreast of what was happening in the "City of Angels" but also in churches and mission stations around the world.
Whether the seekers read the paper or came in person, they were certain to receive messages emphasizing repentance, salvation, humility, worship, healing, deliverance from demonic possession, holy living, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit
Divisions and the end
Along with the success, hurts and heartaches soon came to Azusa Street. Seymour and the faithful learned to expect criticism from newspapers and leaders of other churches—including the founder of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, P. F. Bresee, who believed that Holiness people were already baptized in the Holy Spirit and that the Azusa tongues were not from God.
But some of the harshest criticism came from inside the little mission, with the mother church splitting because of personality clashes, fanaticism, doctrinal differences, and racial separation.
It was said that some whites left because the blacks had a lock on the leadership. Seymour, proving that he was no more perfect than his critics, reportedly asked the Hispanics to leave, and later wrote by-laws that prevented anyone except African-Americans from holding office in the mission. The often-quoted line that "the color line was washed away in the blood" was true in practice for only a short time.
Through the early months of the revival, Seymour gave credit for the movement's origins to Charles Parham and said that Azusa was an extension to the Midwest Apostolic Faith. Expecting a visit from Parham, Seymour wrote, "He was surely raised up of God to be an Apostle of this doctrine of Pentecost." But that "grand meeting" of October 1906 ended in a division that never fully healed.
Parham was shocked at what was being called spiritual manifestations. At what Seymour viewed as God-sent, Parham cringed with disgust, even labeling some adherents as spiritists.
"I sat on the platform in Azusa Street Mission, and saw the manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, [and] saw people practicing hypnotism at the altar over candidates seeking the baptism, though many were receiving the real baptism of the Holy Ghost. After preaching two or three times, I was informed by two of the elders, one who was a hypnotist…that I was not wanted in that place."
But though the founder and most prominent leader of Pentecostalism renounced it, Azusa Street eclipsed him as the center of the new movement.
y1849 –Sister White’s Vision
As we here read what Charles Fox Parham saw with his own eyes as he sat on the platform at the Azusa Street Mission – the hypnotism being practiced, some even from the pulpit, the outright Spiritism in the room along with what he saw as legitimate manifestations of the Holy Spirit also being practiced, along with an ongoing debate in the back of the room. As another noted “While some in the rear are opposing and arguing, others are at the altar falling down under the power of God and feasting in the good things of God. The two spirits are always manifest, but no opposition can kill, no power in earth or hell can stop God's work.“
We can be certain that indeed Ellen White had also seen in vision these very meetings, with all their flaws and shortcomings about 50 years before they occurred!
After some three years of daily, high intensity revival meetings, the Azusa Street Revival, still under Seymour's leadership, began winding down. When the crowds fell off, the mission soon looked like many other Pentecostal missions sprouting up in the Los Angeles area, with only sparse attendance.
Eventually, after Seymour's death in 1922 and his wife's in 1936, the mission closed and was razed. Only memories were left. But a new chapter in the history of the church had begun.
—Ted Olsen is assistant editor of Christian History. His principal source for this article was an unpublished manuscript by Wayne Warner, director of The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, Missouri.
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