Azusa Street:100 Years Later
By Cecil M. Robeck, Jr.
“To the sober mind, all this is arrant tomfoolery, and it is beyond understanding that any intelligent person can be caught in such a senseless entanglement of religious mania. One visit to the place is enough to disgust any thoughtful person, and the more light of day that is turned upon it, the less people will have to do with it, even though they be plain folk with little education, biblical or otherwise.” — Los Angeles Daily Times
As we enter the centennial year of the Azusa Street Mission and revival, I am still astonished at the intensity of antagonistic feelings that the revival engendered among the general population of Los Angeles in 1906. The writer of the opening quotation was identified only as a well-informed gentleman when his reflection appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Times. We do not know who he was. We do not know how he came to be described as well-informed. All we know about him was that he saw the revival as arrant tomfoolery and religious mania. His was one of many such judgments that fell upon the Mission.
Until recently, little was known about the Azusa Street Mission or the revival that brought it into existence. Most of what was known about the revival was written by Frank Bartleman. The title of his book, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, first published in 1925, led people to believe that it was the story of the Azusa Street Mission and revival. Yet, of the 10 chapters found in this book, only one of them focuses on Azusa Street. There were brief comments about the Mission and the revival in two or three other chapters, but it contains only a single chapter on Azusa Street.
Between 1906 and 1909 when the revival was in full force, others wrote about it as well. Far too many stories that have come down to us have been based rather uncritically on a relatively small number of oral or written accounts, many of them highly biased. Historians have used a few of them to sketch the basic storyline, but in the past 100 years, little new and useful material has been referenced. As a result, our knowledge of the depth and impact of the revival has been limited until now.
I have lived and ministered in Southern California for the past 35 years. During the past 30 years I have made Azusa Street the primary focus of my historical research. With time as an ally, I have unearthed sources that most historians would not have time to find — a plethora of public documents such as maps, city directories, court records, census materials, news articles, birth, marriage, and death records, and private documents such as correspondence and diaries. I have also interviewed several people who were present in those early years.
When I put together the thousands of details that emerged from these sources, I found a story that is rich and full. Unlike the judgment of arrant tomfoolery or religious mania that our unidentified writer claimed was the essence of the revival, Azusa Street is a fountain that produced a global movement that has changed the face of Christianity forever. Unlike the conviction of a Los Angeles preacher, who at the time viewed the Azusa Street Mission as nothing more than a place where “they rant and jump and dance and roll in a disgusting amalgamation of African voodoo superstition and Caucasian insanity, and will pass away like the nightmares of hysteria that they are,” I have come to appreciate the variety of ways that people responded when they encountered God at a deep personal level.
The Azusa Street revival began with the arrival of William Seymour in Los Angeles, California, on February 22, 1906. Born May 2, 1870, to former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour, William was baptized and reared a Roman Catholic. Sometime after 1895, Seymour had a conversion experience and became first a Methodist, then a member of the Evening Light Saints — today’s Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). In 1900, he enrolled in God’s Bible School and Missionary Training Home, a Wesleyan Holiness school in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was here Seymour recognized his call to ministry. From Cincinnati he made his way to Houston, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, and to western Louisiana, where he visited with various pastors, or held meetings. Returning to Houston about 1905, he became friends with Mrs. Lucy F. Farrow, who had pioneered a Holiness church in the African-American community.
In July 1905, Charles Parham brought a ministry team to Houston to spread his Apostolic Faith message. Parham held meetings in the city for several weeks, where Farrow, who worked as a cook, fed his team. When Parham finished his Houston meetings and decided to return to Kansas, he invited Farrow to join his family as a nanny. She agreed and turned her congregation over to Seymour. While Farrow was with Parham in Kansas she was baptized in the Spirit. During this same period, Seymour covered her pulpit and a young woman from Los Angeles, Neely Terry, visited the congregation.
Parham and Farrow returned to Houston during the fall of 1905, and Parham announced that he would begin a short-term Bible school in January 1906. As a result of Farrow’s urging, Seymour became one of Parham’s students, though he was required to sit in the hallway to conform to Texas’ racial segregation policies. In the meantime, Terry returned to Los Angeles where she told her pastor, Mrs. Julia W. Hutchins, about Seymour. Hutchins had pioneered a small storefront congregation at 1604 East 9th Street, near the corner of 9th and Santa Fe. She had long desired to be a missionary in Liberia, and was looking for a suitable successor. When Terry told her how appropriate she thought Seymour would be for the position, Hutchins invited him to come to Los Angeles. Parham was not anxious for Seymour to leave; Seymour had not yet been baptized in the Spirit. But Parham finally relented when he saw that Seymour was set to go.
When he arrived in Los Angeles, Seymour made his way to Hutchins’ mission, where, as its new pastor, he preached several times. Hutchins was convinced that Seymour’s teaching on the baptism in the Holy Spirit was not consistent with traditional Holiness doctrine and summoned the president of the Holiness Association to conduct an inquiry. In the end, President Roberts agreed. Seymour was told that he could no longer teach his doctrine at that church. Unemployed and with no funds to return to Houston, Seymour was offered a room by Edward S. Lee at his home, and there in early March, Seymour began a home Bible study and prayer meeting. It quickly became too large for the small Lee home, so it was moved two blocks to the Asberry home at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. (See North Bonnie Brae Street map.)
On April 9, 1906, this prayer meeting composed of about 15 African-American saints was visited by a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. Several spoke in tongues, and the revival began in earnest. By April 12, they had found the empty building on Azusa Street. That evening, Seymour was baptized in the Holy Spirit. By April 15 (Easter), they were holding services. By April 17, a reporter from the Los Angeles Daily Times had visited their meeting, and the following day, April 18, the day of the San Francisco earthquake, the first article appeared in the Los Angeles press introducing Azusa Street to the world.
Where Did They Meet?
For years, the building on Azusa Street has also been an enigma. Most people are familiar with the same three or four photographs that have been published and republished through the years. They show a rectangular, boxy, wood frame structure that was 40 feet by 60 feet and desperately in need of repair. Seymour began his meetings in the Mission on April 15, 1906. A work crew set up a pulpit made from a wooden box used for shipping shoes from the manufacturer to stores. The pulpit sat in the center of the room. A piece of cotton cloth covered its top. Osterberg built an altar with donated lumber that ran between two chairs. Space was left open for seekers. Bartleman sketched seating as nothing more than a few long planks set on nail kegs and a ragtag collection of old chairs.
What the new sources have revealed about the Mission, however, is fascinating. The people worshiped on the ground level — a dirt floor, on which straw and sawdust were scattered. The walls were never finished, but the people whitewashed the rough-cut lumber. Near the door hung a mailbox into which tithes and offerings were placed since they did not take offerings at the Mission. A sign greeted visitors with vivid green letters. It read “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5:25, kjv), with its Ns written backwards and its Ss upside down. Men hung their hats on exposed overhead rafters where a single row of incandescent lights ran the length of the room.
These sources also reveal that the atmosphere within this crude building — without insulation or air conditioning, and teeming with perspiring bodies — was rank at best. As one writer put it, “It was necessary to stick one’s nose under the benches to get a breath of air.”
Several announced that the meetings were plagued by flies. “Swarms of flies,” wrote one reporter, “attracted by the vitiated atmosphere, buzzed throughout the room, and it was a continual fight for protection.”
A series of maps drawn by the Sanborn Insurance Company give a clear picture of the neighborhood. The 1888 map discloses that Azusa Street was originally Old Second Street. The street was never more than one block in length. It ended at a street paving company with piles of coal, along with heavy equipment. A small house, marked on the map by a “D” for domicile, sat on the front of the property with the address of 87. (See highlighted section.) A marble works business specializing in tombstones stood on the southeast corner of Azusa Street and San Pedro. Orange and grapefruit orchards surrounded the property. On the right of the map a Southern Pacific railroad spur is clearly visible. The City Directory indicates that the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish, though other names were mixed among them.
A second map of the property was published in 1894. Old Second Street had become Azusa Street, and the address had been changed to 312. The house had been moved further back on the property where it served as a parsonage. The dominant building at 312 Azusa Street was the Stevens African Methodist Episcopal Church. At the front of the building a series of tiny parallel lines on the map mark a staircase that stood at the north end of the building providing entry to the second floor, the original sanctuary.
The only known photograph of the church from this period shows three interesting features. First, it shows the original staircase. Second, and less obvious, the original roofline had a steep pitch. Third, three gothic style windows with tracery lines adorned the front wall.
By 1894, the citrus groves had largely disappeared. On the southern side they were replaced by lawn. The smell of orange blossoms and the serenity of the orchard were rapidly being replaced by the banging of railroad cars and the smell of new lumber. A growing number of boarding houses and small businesses, including canneries and laundries, were moving into the immediate area by this time. The property marked “YARD” on the map is the beginning of the lumberyard that soon came to dominate the area. The City Directory reveals fewer Jewish names, and more racial and ethnic diversity in the neighborhood, including African Americans, Germans, Scandinavians, and Japanese.
Stevens AME Church occupied the building at 312 Azusa Street until February 1904 when the congregation dedicated a new brick facility at the corner of 8th and Towne and changed their name to First AME Church. Before the congregation could decide what to do with the property on Azusa Street, however, an arsonist set the vacant church building on fire. The structure was greatly weakened, and the roof was completely destroyed. The congregation decided to turn the building into a tenement house. They subdivided the former second-floor sanctuary into several rooms separated by a long hallway that ran the length of the building. The stairs were removed from the front of the building and a rear stairwell was constructed, leaving the original entry hanging in space. The lower level was used to house horses and to store building supplies, including lumber and nails.
In 1906, a new Sanborn Map was published. (See 1906 map.) The building was marked with the words “Lodgings 2nd, Hall 1st, CHEAP.” The transition of the neighborhood had continued. The marble work still occupied the southeast corner of Azusa Street and San Pedro, but a livery and feed supply store now dominated the northeast corner. A growing lumberyard to the south and east of the property now replaced the once sprawling lawn. A Southern Pacific railroad spur curved through the lumberyard to service this business.
The Apostolic Faith, the newspaper of the Azusa Street Mission between September 1906 and June 1908, later referred to the nearby Russian community. Many of these recent immigrants were employed in the lumberyard. They were not Russian Orthodox Christians as one might guess; they were Molokans — “Milk drinkers.” This group had been influenced by some of the 16th-century Reformers. They did not accept the dairy fasts of the Orthodox Church. They were Trinitarians who strongly believed in the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit. Demos Shakarian, grandfather of the founder of Full Gospel Business Men’s International, was among these immigrants who were led to Los Angeles through a prophetic word given in 1855.
Henry McGowan, later an Assemblies of God pastor in Pasadena, was a member of the Holiness Church at the time. He was employed as a teamster. He timed his arrival at the nearby lumberyard so he could visit the Mission during its afternoon services.
This map suggests why some viewed the Mission as being in a slum. A better description would be an area of developing light industry.
In April 1906, when the people who had been meeting at the house at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street were forced to move, they found the building at 312 Azusa Street was for sale. The photograph below taken about the time that the congregation chose to move into the building shows the “For Sale” sign posted high on the east wall of the building, as well as the rear of the tombstone shop. Seymour, pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, and a few trusted friends met with the pastor of First AME Church and negotiated a lease for $8 a month.
An early photograph reveals what the 1906 version of the map indicates. The pitched roof had not been replaced. The building had a flat roof. The staircase that had stood at the front of the building had been removed.
In a sense, this building suited the Azusa Street faithful. They were not accustomed to luxury. They were willing to meet in the stable portion of the building. The upstairs could be used for prayer rooms, church offices, and a home for Pastor Seymour.
Articles of incorporation were filed with the state of California on March 9, 1907, and amended May 19, 1914. The church negotiated the purchase of the property for $15,000 with $4,000 down. It was given the necessary cash to retire the mortgage in 1908. The sale was recorded by the County of Los Angeles on April 12, 1908.
What Do We Know About The People?
The Azusa Street Mission was a place where many worlds were brought together. One newspaper writer described the people this way:
“All classes of people gathered in the temple last night. There were big Negroes looking for a fight, there were little fairies dressed in dainty chiffon who stood on the benches and looked on with questioning wonder in their baby-blue eyes. There were cappers from North Alameda street, and sedatedames from West Adams street. There were all ages, sizes, colors, nationalities and previous conditions of servitude.”
Cappers were typically the African-American baggage handlers at the various railroad stations that dotted downtown Los Angeles, while West Adams Street was largely the arena of wealthy whites.
The California Eagle, the preeminent African-American newspaper in Los Angeles, remembered Seymour as coming to town with the intention of starting an interracial fellowship. From the description above, it is clear that for several years he was successful. Here we find his vision made tangible through the secular press. While this description focuses on African-Americans and whites, other sources show that Latinos, Japanese, Native Americans, and others also frequented the revival.
The number of people who attended the Mission during the years 1906–09 ran into the thousands. Until now, the Azusa Street revival was viewed merely as an event to which everyone came. It is much more helpful to consider the Azusa Street Mission first as a stable congregation, and then look at the visitors who came.
The list of people whose attendance can be documented is more than 500. About 200 of them lived in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities. They formed the stable congregation. The remainder might be described as genuine seekers, critics, and revival chasers. Of the 200 regular attendees, about half were African American, about a dozen were Latino, and the rest were a mix, but mostly white.
Most of those who came from outside Los Angeles were white. Many of them were baptized in the Spirit at Azusa Street and left for other places around the world, where they carried their own Apostolic Faith message. My list of names suggests that in any given service at the Mission, 30 percent of those in attendance were evangelists, pastors, teachers, and missionaries.
The secular press in Los Angeles claimed that services soared to between 500 and 700 attendees within 3 months of its founding. Arthur Osterberg estimated that as many as 1,500 people worshiped there on most Sundays in 1906. Services seemed to continue nonstop, while people came and went.
What Do We Know Of Its Staff And Programs?
One thing we have known is this: the Mission had a substantial staff of volunteers. The photograph seen here has been regarded as though it were the permanent staff. In reality, this photograph was taken about August 1, 1906, and by the end of September, six people from this group had left the Mission to hold meetings elsewhere. Four of them never returned. By early 1907 three more had left for good, going to Portland, Oregon, and to Indianapolis, Indiana.
Just as important is the fact many people who served on the Mission’s staff were not pictured — altar workers and street preachers such as Abundio and Rosa de Lopez who worked especially with Latinos; those who corresponded on behalf of the Mission such as I. May Throop, Mrs. C.J. Hagg, and May Field Mayo; those who rolled and mailed The Apostolic Faith such as Tommy Anderson; those who organized the 1907 Camp Meeting such as R.J. Scott; board members such as Richard Asberry, Louis Osterberg, James Alexander, John Hughes, and Reuben Clark; and Edward S. Lee who was a frequent preacher at the Mission. In fact, the size of the staff suggests, in spite of Frank Bartleman’s protests to the contrary, that the Mission was highly organized.
The Mission had a regular membership. It had a board of trustees. It incorporated. It bought and owned its property. It adopted a statement of faith, taking large parts of it from Parham. It ran a children’s church on Sunday afternoons in the Upper Room on the second floor. On Monday mornings, it held what can be described as staff meetings or planning meetings for the work.
As the revival grew and other Apostolic Faith churches were established in Los Angeles — as well as in local suburbs such as Pasadena, Monrovia, Whittier, and Long Beach, Seymour invited the pastors of those congregations to join these Monday morning sessions. The fact Seymour named Florence Crawford as state director, and Jennie Moore and Phoebe Sargent as city evangelists illustrates considerable sophistication in their planning.
The Mission sought to influence others in a variety of ways. From September 1906, it published a newspaper called The Apostolic Faith. It coordinated large baptismal services at Terminal Island, near Long Beach. Hundreds of people took the trains that went to the beach where they held all-day meetings while the public watched. (See “Baptismal” cartoon.)
The staff planned street meetings in towns surrounding Los Angeles: Monrovia, Whittier, and Long Beach. These meetings stirred up local churches and often led to arrests. When someone was arrested, the Mission did three things. First, they publicized the arrest, pointing to those who had been arrested as martyrs. Second, they appear to have coordinated the arguments that those who had been arrested would use in their courtroom defense. Third, they sent a streetcar load of supporters to take up the work of the persons who had been arrested. Their planning toward evangelistic outreach and their use of the streetcar system can only be described as intentional.
What Do We Know Of Their Beliefs And Worship?
Without a doubt, the statement of faith published by the Azusa Street Mission had a Holiness foundation. The Holiness foundation could be found in its commitment to sanctification as the second and last work of grace, that is, as an event that took place subsequent to the first work of grace, justification. It is apparent in its call for individuals to live holy lives. Many of the hymns the Mission sang were drawn from the Holiness tradition. The theme song of the Mission, Frank Bottome’s “The Comforter Has Come,” was a song that reflected on Jesus’ promise in John 14:16, but at Azusa Street it became a reflection on Acts 2:4.
The Mission’s deep commitment to divine healing was also consistent with the teaching of the Holiness movement. It was rooted in the Holiness teaching that the Atonement provided a double cure (salvation/healing for soul and body) for the double curse (death of the body and the soul). Vocabulary like “Pentecostal,” “Full Gospel,” and “Spirit filled,” so prevalent in The Apostolic Faith, was first used by Holiness people. One can find some of the same terms in the advertisement for God’s Bible School that Seymour had attended.
The other substantial influence on the Mission’s life and worship came from the African-American community. If you were to attend the Azusa Street Mission, it would be impossible to believe that you were worshiping in anything other than an African-American church. Seymour, an African American, was the “nominal leader in charge,” according to Frank Bartleman, but one cannot escape the fact virtually everything about the services was overlaid by an African-American dominance. The frequency of hugging and kissing across racial lines would never have taken place in a white church under white leadership at the time, not even in Los Angeles. It was not only possible; but it was also acceptable, if not encouraged at Azusa Street.
The fact the pastor was an African-American cannot be taken for granted. From the sermon fragments we have access to, and reports of Seymour’s preaching style provided by local newspaper reporters, it is clear that his preaching style reflected that of the African-American tradition. He preached sermons in a dialogical style known as call and response. He read a few words and expounded on them, read a few more words, and expounded on them. He stopped during his sermon to give people opportunity to offer their opinions, their affirmations, and their exaltations. And he shouted with the best of them.
Many of those who regularly attended Azusa Street had come from Holiness denominations that did not use musical instruments, but depended on singing in parts. For at least a year all music at the Azusa Street Mission was a cappella. But there were features at Azusa Street, such as the extensive use of rhythm, that one could find along the southern frontier, and especially among African Americans who had been part of the old slave praise houses. Many reports regarding Azusa Street’s music spoke of hand clapping, thigh slapping, and foot stomping, with shouts that went on in rhythm with the music.
African-American women usually led the congregation in the musical arena, especially in a new musical phenomenon that became known as singing in the Spirit. Virtually everyone who heard this was deeply moved. Parham complained that it was nothing more than a modification of the Negro chanting in the Southland, but his criticism was clearly in the minority.
Most secular newspaper reporters who came to ridicule the Mission sang a new tune when they witnessed singing in tongues. “The chorus of tongues,” wrote one, “while likewise unintelligible was weirdly beautiful. A colored woman with the voice of a Patti began singing in a tongue, which probably never before was heard. Her voice was joined by a contralto of great depth and richness, but singing another tongue. Others took up the chant, each after her own tune and ‘tongues,’ till the building was vocal with the tones of golden mellowness. They say that the Holy Ghost tunes their voices.”1
In addition to time-worn Holiness hymns, highly rhythmic songs and choruses sung in parts, and singing in the Spirit, many people at the Mission wrote their own songs and shared them during the testimony services. Indeed, personal testimonies played an enormous role in the spread of the revival.
“The testimony meetings which precede the preaching often continue for 2 hours or more and people are standing waiting to testify all the time. Those who have received the baptism with the Holy Ghost testify that they had a clear evidence of sanctification first. Hundreds testify that they received the Bible evidence of speaking in a new tongues that they never knew before.”
According to secular newspapers, these testimony services were anything but dull, boring, or defeatist. People could hardly wait to get the floor. Reports indicate that once again African-Americans dominated them. They cried, shouted, shrieked, sang, prophesied, fell down in the Spirit, jumped, debated, tried to carry on conversations in tongues with one another at breakneck speed, and at the same time bear witness to what the Lord had done in their lives. It must have been incredibly exhilarating to be present in the swiftly paced testimony services of the Mission. As one reporter noted after trying to describe a dozen testimonies including one in which a white woman had “gradually worked herself into a frenzy and concluded in a jabber.”
“The spirit began to move faster. A mulatto woman with a high pompadour and a white woman in a corner battled for supremacy. Another negro started, ‘I am washed in the blood,’ and a genuine camp-meeting time followed, with clapping of hands and stomping of feet, while a negress within the circle shouted ‘hong-kong’ over and over.” (See cartoon “Summer Solstice.”)
One can almost hear the shouts and the prayers that carried the revival along. The second floor Upper Room was dedicated to prayer. There was a healing room upstairs, designated for those who wanted prayer for healing. The cottage behind the Mission became a place where Farrow prayed for people to be saved, sanctified, and baptized in the Holy Spirit. And prayer within the Mission’s services was often long and loud. As one reporter put it, “No one in particular led in prayer. They all prayed. They all made different prayers and the confusion of tongues had the Tower of Babel backed off the boards.”
How Was The Revival Accepted?
The Azusa Street revival was something new in Los Angeles, a city already noted for its ability to tolerate a wide variety of religious claims. But when it came to this revival, one cynic reflected in the Los Angeles Daily Times about the appearance of yet another “new religion” in Los Angeles. “The intention seems to be,” he surmised, “to keep on inventing new religions until every man has his own. Then maybe we’ll have peace.”
In a sense, this anonymous cynic expressed the epitome of postmodern thought. In another way he expressed the frustration that many have felt for 150 years regarding the development of new denominations in American-born religious life. While some saw it as an answer to prayer, others were gravely threatened by its intrusion.
Frank Bartleman mentioned that Joseph Smale, pastor of First New Testament Church in Los Angeles in April 1906, had to go to the Azusa Street Mission to find his congregation. While his point is clearly overstated, Smale played a major role in attempting to provide space for this revival, not only in his own congregation, but also among the historic churches in Los Angeles. The speed with which the Azusa Street Mission grew in 1906; the fact many Holiness churches were either closing or had been greatly damaged when their people left to join the revival; the coverage that the revival received in the local press; and the questions that people in historic churches must surely have been raising to their pastors as a result of the news, forced the Los Angeles Church Federation to action.
In July 1906, the Los Angeles Church Federation scheduled a meeting. While they claimed this meeting was merely to develop an agenda for a cooperative summer program, the press was not fooled by their rhetoric. They were attempting to find a way to counter the revival without looking bad. Smale, who was the former pastor of the prestigious First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, wrote an open letter to the Los Angeles Church Federation challenging them to give the revival space, and to take a long, hard look at themselves. As a result of his intervention they developed a four-point plan that included a commitment to: (1) encourage their people to pray for revival in Los Angeles and to offer more prayer meetings at their churches; (2) hold cooperative street meetings and do evangelistic work throughout the summer; (3) canvass the city in a cooperative effort to offer church homes to unchurched people; and (4) work toward a citywide evangelistic campaign in 1907.
While Smale was not baptized in the Holy Spirit according to the teachings of Azusa Street, nevertheless, for several months he allowed the members of First New Testament Church who had entered fully into the revival, to speak in tongues, prophesy, cast out demons, pray for the sick, and be slain in the Spirit. While he disagreed with Seymour over doctrine, he was accepting of most of Azusa Street’s practices. His support for the revival came to a sudden end, however, when a 16-year-old girl in his congregation, Lillian Keyes, the daughter of his longtime friend and supporter, Dr. Henry S. Keyes, spoke out against him. She prophesied that Smale was quenching the Spirit by not allowing the Spirit sufficient freedom in his services. This prophecy became a point of contention. Smale suggested to Dr. and Mrs. Keyes that their daughter was out of order and might need psychological or medical help because it was not the Holy Spirit who was speaking. In fact, he implied, it might even be another spirit who was speaking through her.
Dr. Keyes was incensed. When Lillian attempted to speak in the Spirit in a subsequent service, Smale stopped her. That was the last straw for Keyes. He left First New Testament Church, and with the aid of one of Smale’s assistants, Elmer K. Fisher, he started what would become the second major Pentecostal congregation in Los Angeles, the Upper Room Mission. Smale responded by condemning the entire movement, suggesting Los Angeles was seeing lived out, firsthand, what the apostle Paul had condemned in 1 Corinthians 12–14. By November 1906, Smale was writing against the revival.
As if that were not sufficient to damage the revival, public criticism came from an unexpected corner — Parham. At the beginning of the revival, Seymour had acknowledged Parham as his father in the Apostolic Faith. When the revival began to build in Los Angeles and new Apostolic Faith congregations began to emerge, Seymour invited Parham to come and hold a citywide revival. Parham came in late October 1906, but within a week he tried to shut the revival down. When he saw what was taking place, he declared, “God is sick to His stomach.” He was not happy about the interracial mixing that Seymour had encouraged. He was not happy with most of the people who claimed they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, labeling their experiences as counterfeit. He was not happy with the altar workers, many of whom he called fanatics. He was not happy that Seymour had commissioned evangelists and missionaries to carry the Apostolic Faith message to the world. Parham tried to take over.
Seymour and his board of trustees were not happy with Parham, and asked him to leave. Bartleman later complained of what he viewed as Parham’s high-handedness by observing, “We had prayed down our own revival.”
Glenn Cook viewed Parham as simply being puffed up, an arrogant man who strutted around with a high silk hat like a dictator. Neither man believed that the Azusa Street Mission needed to hear further from Parham. This clash led to criticism in the religious press (The secular press seemed to miss it.), and it led Parham to make various attempts around the country to undermine Seymour’s ministry and the Azusa Street revival. (See cartoon, “The Foot Cannot Say.”)
When the worship dynamic is as vital as it was at the Azusa Street Mission, when the worshipers there had been baptized in the Spirit in an encounter that was both life transforming and language altering, those touched by the revival could no longer sit still. They began to carry the message first to their neighbors, then to the nation, and finally to the world.
I have marked a map of 1906 Los Angeles to see where the Mission’s members lived. Five neighborhoods stand out in stark contrast from the rest of the city. People were telling their neighbors and inviting them to the Mission.
By looking at the streetcar lines in Southern California, I noticed that at the end of every line was a mission founded by people from Azusa Street. Preaching points where street meetings were held can be plotted on the map. People were anxious to share their story, often at the tops of their voices.
Within 4 months of the Mission’s founding, newly empowered evangelists had left the mission and were spreading out across the nation. Revivals were springing up elsewhere in California as well as in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, and Indiana. Within 8 months, missionaries were on the ground in Mexico, Liberia, Angola, and India, and the message had spread to Norway. Given the criticisms of the Holiness movement that the Azusa Street revival was spreading heresy with their tongues doctrine, it is not surprising to find such a cartoon as that run in The Burning Bush. (See cartoon “Third Blessing.”)
All of this activity contributed to a revival that has since spread around the world. Like most revivals, the actual revival lasted only 3 years. Such a highly energized religious experience cannot be sustained as normative long term. After a jumpstart like that which occurred on Azusa Street, there inevitably comes a time for ordinary Christians to settle down and get to work. Unfortunately, those who are deeply touched within a revivalist tradition tend to believe otherwise.
In 1908, Florence Crawford broke from Seymour, taking many churches with her. She claimed that the center of the revival had moved north to Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles was only a memory. In 1911, William Durham came from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles where he tried to restart the revival using his Finished Work theory of sanctification. In the short term he was successful, but he died within a year, and the only thing he managed to accomplish in Los Angeles was to split the churches that were already present.
In 1913, others at the Worldwide Apostolic Faith Camp Meeting in Los Angeles attempted to reinvigorate the revival by introducing as normative the idea that Apostolic baptism was genuine only if it were offered in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). This intervention served, once again, to fragment the churches in the area. Sadly, in each case, the witness to the interracial character of the revival in Los Angeles was undercut. These failures seemed to deny Seymour’s message, that the color line could be destroyed through reliance on the blood of Jesus was part of the gospel.
Seymour had been faithful in getting things going, but in the end, the revival spread outside the four walls where he was pastor. He continued to lead his congregation until his death, September 28, 1922. At his death, his wife, Jennie Evans [Moore] Seymour succeeded him as pastor.
Following Seymour’s death, the congregation stabilized at a couple dozen people, all of whom were African-American. In 1930, the Mission was faced with a challenge by a new interloper, but in the end it failed. Ruthford Griffith came to the Mission in 1930 and stayed into 1931. He intimidated Jennie Seymour and her congregation and attempted to take over the church. He moved into the church building and began repairs on the structure. When he was confronted by the congregation, he sued them. The lawsuit initially led to a judgment in his favor and the sale of the property. On appeal, however, the court ultimately found in favor of Mrs. Seymour.
In July 1931, the termite-infested building that had seen enormously important days between 1906 and 1909 was demolished. Mrs. Seymour died July 2, 1936, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles. A final map, published in 1936, reveals nothing but a vacant lot on the site that had once borne witness to God’s work in reshaping the face of global Christianity. (See 1936 Map.)
The story of the Azusa Street revival does not end in 1936, however. Since that time the Pentecostal and charismatic movement has been built on the foundations laid by evangelists and missionaries who carried the Apostolic Faith message around the world. It has produced thousands of denominations, crossed into many historic churches in the form of charismatic renewal, and into evangelical congregations through a third wave of revival. It has functioned as an icon of hope for oppressed people, as it did so effectively during the Apartheid era in South Africa. And it continues to point Christians toward the One who promised His followers that if they would go to Jerusalem and tarry, they would receive the Promise of the Father.
1. The term “Patti” comes from the Italian, Adelina Patti (1843–1919), an internationally known opera star, the foremost bel canto and coloratura soprano of her day. By the 1890s, her name was frequently applied to outstanding African-American female singers. I believe the “Patti” to whom this reporter made reference was Jennie Evans Moore, the future wife of Pastor Seymour.