The interracial aspects of the Pentecostal Movement are rooted in the interracial nature and character of the Azusa Street Revival. The groundwork for this interracial ministry through William J. Seymour at Azusa Street Mission may have been laid by his exposure to the ministry of John Alexander Dowie as well as his affiliation with Church of God Reformation. However, it was the teaching of Christians having a pure heart (sanctification) and a great hunger for God that brought together people of varying races during a time of racial oppression, segregation and Jim Crowism.
William J. Seymour was born and raised during a period of racial oppression in the South. In St. Mary Parrish, Louisiana, Seymour’s home, oppression of African-Americans included 1) “black codes” used to restrict and/or control African-American work activities 2) low wages ($20 per month) supplemented by a cabin in poor condition, rations and fuel 3) the threat of being arrested for vagrancy and fined an un-payable sum for not being able to find work 4) violence 5) harassment from groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia and [Horatio] Seymour’s Knights.1 However, in 1900, after having lived in Memphis, Tennessee and Indianapolis, Indiana, Seymour moved to Chicago, Illinois. It is believed that while in Chicago, Seymour became exposed to the ministry of John Alexander Dowie.
Dowie, a Caucasian-American faith-healer was the founder of Christian Catholic Church. Most of his converts were from Methodism. Dowie believed, “The time has come for this horrible so called ‘race prejudice’ to be wiped out….There is only one race – the children of Adam and Eve.” Dowie insisted on having at least one African-American on his “board of twelve apostles” and integrated seating in his facilities. His position on race was considered “radical” for his time. It is reported Charles Fox Parham emulated Dowie’s ministry and wanted to succeed him. However Parham, a white-supremacist, did not share Dowie’s racial views.
After moving to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1901, Seymour became sanctified and joined Church of God Reformation (Evening Light Saints).2 This church had welcomed African-Americans and the poor from its inception. Evening Light Saints taught Christian unity included breaking class, gender and racial barriers as well as sectarian barriers. To them, Christian unity was not just a teaching. It was a reality. By 1900, thirty (30) African-Americans were leaders in the church. Caucasian-American and African-American Evening Light Saints “worked hand in hand”.3
Although the prayer services at 214 Bonnie Brae Street were attended by Caucasian-Americans Frank Bartleman and W. H. McGowan,4 the initial Holy Ghost outpouring on Bonnie Brae Street involved only African-Americans. Such persons included Edward S. Lee, Jennie Evans Moore, “a Brother Hughes and Sister Traynor and her two children, Bud and Sis”. Other African-Americans present at the prayer service and subsequently Holy Ghost baptized were Emma Cotton5 and Ruth Asberry. The African-American woman who spoke in tongues at New Testament Church on April 15, 1906 was probably Jennie Evans Moore. Jennie and Ruth Asberry attended this Caucasian-American church on Easter Sunday. Jennie testified about her experience at Bonnie Brae and gave an utterance in tongues. Ruth interpreted the utterance.6
As news of the outpouring spread and Caucasian-Americans began to mingle in the crowds, May Evans became the first Caucasian-American to be Holy Ghost baptized [in this revival]. As word of the outpouring continued to spread in Los Angeles, Cena Osterberg, a Caucasian-American, heard of the prayer meeting at Bonnie Brae while praying for a person with a broken leg who was hospitalized at Crocker Street Hospital. While praying, an African-American woman from the prayer meeting at Bonnie Brae joined the intercession. Later she told Cena of the outpouring and invited her to attend the prayer meeting. Cena attended the meeting and shared her testimony at Full Gospel Assembly, a church pastored by her son A. G. Osterberg. Eventually A. G. and three Caucasian-American men, Brothers Holler, Dodge and Weaver also attended the meeting. Although at first apprehensive about worshipping in a racially mixed service, Osterberg quickly overcame his apprehension after witnessing African-Americans pray “with such earnestness that tears were running down their faces”. He characterized persons who attended the meeting as those who were “hungry for more of God”.7 After the building at 312 Azusa Street was acquired, Osterberg hired men to help clean and renovate the building.8 Other [local] Caucasian-American pastors who attended the revival [either at Bonnie Brae or Azusa Street] included Thomas A. Atteberg of People’s Church, A. G. Garr of Burning Bush Mission, William Manley of Household of Faith, Ansel H. Post and William Pendleton,9 the McGowan’s pastor.10
The staff of Azusa Street Mission (later incorporated as Apostolic Faith Mission11) that included the staff of The Apostolic Faith, was integrated. Jennie Evans Moore, a Mrs. Prince, Lucy Farrow and Joseph A. Warren were African-Americans who served on the staff. Caucasian-Americans who served on the staff included Glen A. Cook, Florence Crawford, G. W. Evans, Clara Lum, Phoebe Sargent, Hiram Smith12 and May Evans.13 Other staff members14 included Reuben Clark, a Civil War Veteran and Mary Perkins.15
Much of the interracial character of the Azusa Street revival has been attributed to Seymour’s leadership. According to Frank Ewart, a revival attendee, Seymour had “sweet winsome ways” that “broke down all barriers erected by spiritual bigotry”. He “won the love and trust of the people to such an extent that they forgot their natural animosities”.16 However, the harmony among the interracial staff was disrupted on May 13, 1908 when Seymour married Jennie Evans Moore.17
Clara Lum, editor of The Apostolic Faith, had been in love with Seymour and wanted to marry him. After his marriage to Jennie, Clara moved to Portland, Oregon, taking with her twenty-two national and international mailing lists of The Apostolic Faith.18 She began publishing the paper from Portland stating in the July/August edition,
“We have moved the paper which the Lord laid on us to begin in Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, which will now be its headquarters”.
She also requested that money be sent to the paper in Portland.
Portland, Oregon was the headquarters of Florence Crawford’s ministry. Florence had also left Azusa Street Mission (prior to Clara) because of Seymour’s marriage to Jennie. Florence established a mission in Portland and reported in the Portland Apostolic Faith that Azusa Street Mission had let “down the standard of holiness” and ceased teaching sanctification as a second work of grace. The charges were false.19
Seymour and Jennie traveled to Portland to retrieve the mailing lists. However, Clara refused to release them. In 1909, the paper ceased to exist. The loss of The Apostolic Faith’s mailing lists thwarted Seymour’s plans for a worldwide ministry. The lists had been collected over a period of four years and were irreplaceable. “Their loss prevented Azusa Street Mission from expressing its voice to supporters around the world.” After this episode, Caucasian-American clergy withdrew from Azusa Street Mission and opened independent missions in California and elsewhere. According to Douglas J. Nelson, the Pentecostal movement then changed from one of interracial equality and unity to a divided movement dominated by Caucasian-Americans.20
Meanwhile, the Pentecostal movement spread in the South through the ministries of Gaston Barnabas Cashwell and Charles Harrison Mason. Cashwelll began a Pentecostal meeting in Dunn, North Carolina on December 31, 1906. This revival resulted in the conversion of most of the southern Holiness movement to Pentecostalism. Cashwell invited ministers from Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, Pentecostal Holiness Church and Free-Will Baptist Church to attend the meeting. Many Holiness preachers went down to the altar and came up speaking in tongues, singing in tongues, laughing the holy laugh, shouting, leaping, dancing and praising God.
After the Dunn revival ended in January 1907, Cashwell held revivals in communities from Danville, Virginia to Birmingham, Alabama. He traveled through the South holding revivals until 1909. Holiness leaders who were Holy Ghost baptized either directly or indirectly as a result of Cashwell’s ministry include A. J. Tomlinson of Church of God, J. H. King of Fire-Baptized Holiness Church and N. J. Holmes of Brewerton Presbyterian Church.21
After leaving Los Angeles, Charles Harrison Mason conducted a revival in Portsmouth, Virginia from April-July 1907. “During this revival, six thousand persons were converted.” Holy Ghost baptism had greatly enhanced his ministry. Gifts of the Holy Ghost such as gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, word of wisdom, word of knowledge and gifts of healings were manifested through his ministry. He also exercised demons. Mason believed and accepted the teaching from Azusa Street Mission that Holy Ghost baptism is to be received as manifested on the Day of Pentecost and speaking in tongues is the initial sign of Holy Ghost baptism.
After arriving in Memphis, Tennessee in July 1907, Mason found Glen A. Cook, Seymour’s business manager preaching at his church while on a three-month cross-country tour. According to Mason,
“The fire had fallen before my arrival. Brother Cook of California was telling the story and the Lord was sending the rain.”
The people of Mason’s church liked Cook, who thought of settling there. However, Mason encouraged him to remain on the evangelistic field. According to Ithiel Clemmons, Caucasian-Americans wanted to change worship within the African-American church. Therefore, Cook was not encouraged to remain.22
The intrusion of Pentecostal doctrine into Church of God in Christ under the leadership of Cook and Mason alienated Charles Price Jones, then General Overseer and Presiding Elder of the church. As a result, in the August 1907 General Assembly of the church, the right hand of fellowship was withdrawn from Mason and all who “promulgated the doctrine of speaking in tongues”. “Mason and the majority of the members withdrew from the General Assembly. Later in 1907, Mason convened another Assembly in Memphis. In this meeting, the name Church of God in Christ was retained. The doctrine of entire sanctification as a second work of grace was also retained in the Articles of Faith. However, a Pentecostal paragraph was added. Jones changed the name of the resulting non-Pentecostal church to The Church of Christ (Holiness) U. S. A.23
Under Mason’s leadership, people of all races were added to Church of God in Christ. “Some Jewish people even joined the church.”
“These were a group of [African-American] and [Caucasian-American] men working together under [an African-American] leader. The Holy Ghost fell on Azusa Street on a mixed congregation…proving the thing God tried to show to Peter, that He[‘s] no respecter of persons, no racial God, but a God of every nation. Bless His name.”
As a religious leader, Mason demonstrated concern for all people. He was especially concerned for poor African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans. “Although he never forgot the significance of race, he was one who refused to be confined to it.” He never saw African-Americans solely as victims. “He linked African-American religious experience with prophetic critique of race, gender and class.” In his book, Bishop C. H. Mason and the Roots of the Church of God in Christ, Bishop Ithiel Clemmons called this the “African-American prophetic tradition”.
The interracial makeup of Church of God in Christ was the result of the interracial makeup of Azusa Street Mission. The organizational arrangements with Caucasian-American who eventually formed Assemblies of God were born from this interracial makeup. Between 1907 and 1914 Mason ordained 350 Caucasian-American ministers.24 Many Caucasian-Americans joined the church because it was incorporated. Many of the Caucasian-Americans ordained by Mason were founders of Assemblies of God.25
In 1914, the Caucasian-American ministers of Church of God in Christ called for a convention of Pentecostal leaders for the formation of a national Pentecostal denomination that would include all Caucasian-American ministers and churches. This resulted in the formation of Assemblies of God.26 When Assemblies of God was formed in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1914, Mason attended the meeting. Saints Industrial, a singing group from Lexington, Mississippi accompanied him. “Mason preached on Thursday night of the meeting. He illustrated the wonders of God using an unusually shaped sweet potato. He also sang improvisational songs that Daniel Payne called ‘corn-field ditties’. Mason gave the leaders of Assemblies of God leave to void their Church of God in Christ credentials and bid them farewell.” According to Ithiel Clemmons, the withdrawal of Caucasian-Americans from Church of God in Christ was partly due to their inability to assume the prevailing leadership role in the church
The formation of Assemblies of God in 1914 was not only a racial split within Church of God in Christ, but also a doctrinal split. The founders of Assemblies of God embraced the “finished work” doctrine of sanctification. According to this view, Christians are sanctified at regeneration because of the “finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary”. This is a non-Wesleyan view that does not consider sanctification to be a second work of grace.
William H. Durham introduced the “finished work” doctrine to the Pentecostal movement in 1911 in Los Angeles. He preached it at Upper Room Mission, a church formed as a result of a split of New Testament Church, as well as at Azusa Street Mission. As a result of preaching this doctrine, Durham was ousted from Upper Room Mission and barred from Azusa Street Mission.28 Because the founders of Assemblies of God embraced this doctrine, A. J. Tomlinson and J. H. King refused their invitations to attend the new denomination’s organizational meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas.29
“The key to the spread of the Pentecostal movement in the South was its acceptance by Holiness leaders.” Mason, King and Tomlinson remained committed to the doctrine of sanctification as a second work of grace, but displayed a willingness to change by adding the doctrine of speaking in tongues as evidence of Holy Ghost baptism.30 As Pentecostal leaders Seymour, Mason, Cashwell, King and Tomlinson supported each other. “Their friendship brought their churches into close association.”
Mason traveled everywhere ministering to African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans.31 James Delk, a Caucasian-American converted and sanctified under Mason’s ministry wrote the following concerning Mason:
“...Regardless of creed, color, or race, he lived and preached [holiness] until it brought great persecution to him, but he paid very little attention to his persecutors. He became such a power for God that a president of a railroad company was converted under his ministry. I doubt if there has ever been a minister who has lived since the day of the apostles, who has shown the sweet spirit to all people, regardless of race, creed, or color, or has preached with greater power than Brother Mason….In 1916, he conducted a great camp meeting for the whites of Nashville, Tennessee, where more than 7,000 attended each night. I have heard some of the highest politicians speak complimentary of Bishop Mason, and I have heard some of the leading white ministers of several different organizations say if Brother Mason was a white man, we would gladly step aside and let him lead our organization.”
Delk was a life-long follower of Mason and the founder of a local congregation of Church of God in Christ in Madisonville, Kentucky. He remarked that he, a Caucasian-American, had been inspired to be completely loyal to an African-American (Mason). During his tenure with Mason, the Klu Klux Klan beat Delk twice.32
“The Pentecostal movement remained interracial from 1906 to 1924. Division occurred on racial lines only after denominations began to formally coalesce. Interracial Pentecostal denominations were socially pressured to conform to segregation. This followed the pattern set by older Protestant denominations.” Although some African-Americans accepted these divisions, the majority felt they were sinful and embarrassing. They blamed the divisions on racial customs and prejudices of the South but never on the prejudices of Caucasian-Americans.
After the racial separation, little or no contact was maintained between African-American and Caucasian-American Pentecostals. When it was formed in 1948, African-Americans were not invited to join Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. This organization’s purpose was to “demonstrate to the world the essential unity of Spirit-baptized believers, fulfilling the prayers of the Lord Jesus ‘that they all may be one…’”. However, World Pentecostal Conference, formed in 1947, included African-Americans at its inception.
“All Pentecostals acknowledge their debt to William J. Seymour because of his role as leader of the Pentecostal revival in Los Angeles. However, few recognize him as the founder of the Pentecostal movement.” African-Americans refer to him as the “Apostle and Pioneer” of the movement. They often use him to demonstrate that the Pentecostal movement began as an African-American phenomenon that was later accepted by Caucasian-Americans.33
According to Vinson Synan, the attitudes of Caucasian-American Pentecostals toward African-Americans in the early and later movements have been difficult to determine. Prejudice existed in the early stages of the movement in spite of its interracial nature. Charles Fox Parham criticized meetings at Azusa Street Mission because of its “disgusting” similarity to “Southern darkey camp meetings”. 34 He was also appalled at “men and women, [Caucasian-Americans and African-Americans kneeling] together or [falling] across one another;…frequently a [Caucasian-American] woman…thrown back in the arms of a big ‘buck n-----‘, and held tightly…as she shivered in freak imitation of Pentecost”.35 Parham spent the later years of his life as an avid Klu Klux Klan supporter.
“Most Pentecostals repudiated the Klan. Pentecostal Holiness Advocate opposed it as an ‘anti-American organization – essentially evil and anti-Christian’.” Southern Pentecostals were suspicious of the Klan because in addition to African-Americans, Jews and Catholics, it persecuted Holiness people. The Klu Klux Klan attacked Church of God’s Camp Creek church, the first congregation of the denomination. Some individual Pentecostals joined the Klan. Others accepted offerings from the Klan.
During the racial controversy that followed World War II, Church of God and Pentecostal Holiness Church stood firmly with the South. They espoused the Dixie viewpoint through the early part of the century. Later, they dropped racial and political topics from their periodicals. (By this time Pentecostal Holiness was a new and larger church resulting from two mergers. Fire-Baptized Holiness Church merged with Pentecostal Holiness Church in January 1911. Brewerton Presbyterian Church merged with Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1915.36)
Racial policies of the larger Pentecostal denominations were largely unstated and unpublished. Following the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation decision, larger Pentecostal denominations were conspicuously silent. However, Emmanuel Holiness Church, a small denomination that had splinted from Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, defended the Old South. They declared,
“We welcome all nationalities of people into the Emmanuel Holiness Church in their respective Conference bodies. So be it resolved, that we are opposed to the act of integration of the races.”
Before 1954, interracial worship in revivals, tent meetings, camp meetings and pulpit exchanges was the rule among southern Pentecostals. After 1954, the Civil Rights movement brought social ostracism to Caucasian-Americans practicing interracial worship. However, in 1967, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Washington, D. C. was a predominately African-American church whose pastor was John L. Mears, a Caucasian-American.
By 1964, major Pentecostal denominations were officially supporting African-Americans’ drive for Civil Rights. Church of God’s adopted resolution declared,
“Christian love and tolerance are incompatible with race prejudice and hatred…no American should, because of his race or religion be deprived of his right to worship, vote, rest, eat, sleep, be educated, live and work on the same basis as other citizens.”
This resolution’s adoption occurred during the furor over passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Church of God abolished its “colored assembly” in 1966. All references to churches, ministers or members as “colored” were deleted from church records and minutes. The church surpassed the performance of mainstream Protestant denominations.
In 1965, Pentecostal Holiness Church’s General Executive Board was directed to:
“seek to establish communication with sincere religious leaders among American Negroes; that an effort be made to form Negro Associate Conferences and that in general, sincere actions be focused toward constructively assisting our Negro friends with the moral and spiritual problems which are so prevalent and so pressing.”
“By 1967, most Pentecostal colleges complied with racial requirements for receiving federal aid.” Most were actively recruiting African-American students and athletes.
The Pentecostal movement bowed to social segregation pressures. However, in the last half of the twentieth century, the movement showed signs of setting the pace in ecclesiastical race relations. They demonstrated flexibility and ability to meet the challenges of the twentieth century.37