The Azusa Street Revival
It is impossible to understand the present state of Christianity
without understanding both the past and continuing impact of the
Pentecostal Movement. To even call what began at Azusa Street just a
revival would be to obscure its true importance. It was a revival, but
it was also a renewal and a reformation of the church as well. With
the possible exception of Luther’s Reformation, there probably has not
been another movement in church history which has had a greater
overall impact on the entire church.
The Azusa Street Revival was a historic Pentecostal revival meeting
that took place in Los Angeles, California, and was led by William J.
Seymour, an African American preacher. It began with a meeting on
April 14, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The revival was
characterized by ecstatic spiritual experiences accompanied by
miracles, dramatic worship services, speaking in tongues, and
inter-racial mingling. The participants received criticism from
secular media and Christian theologians for behaviors considered to be
outrageous and unorthodox, especially at the time. Today, the revival
is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread
of Pentecostalism in the 20th century.
William J. Seymour was born in Centerville, Louisiana on May 2, 1870.
He was the son of former slaves, Simon and Phyllis Seymour. Even after
gaining their freedom the Seymours had continued working on a
plantation. Young William followed in their footsteps, growing strong
in body and spirit, but receiving very little formal education. He
taught himself to read so that he could read the Bible. Under the
almost constant harassment of the Ku Klux Klan, and the oppressive Jim
Crow laws, William became convinced that Jesus Christ was the only
true liberator of men. After contracting small pox and losing one eye,
he devoted himself to the ministry, proclaiming the gospel of the true
liberty of all men through Jesus Christ.
In 1905, William J. Seymour, the one-eyed 34 year old son of former
slaves, was in Houston, Texas where he heard the Pentecostal message
for the first time. He attended a Bible school conducted by Charles F.
Parham. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement, and
is the father of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic revival.He was
also interim pastor for a small holiness church in Houston, Texas.
Neely Terry, an African American woman who attended a small holiness
church pastored by Julia Hutchins in Los Angeles, made a trip to visit
family in Houston late in 1905 While in Houston, she visited Seymour’s
church, where he preached the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the
evidence of speaking in tongues, and though he had not experienced
this personally, Terry was impressed with his character and message.
Once home in California, Terry suggested that Seymour be invited to
speak at the local church.
Seymour received and accepted the invitation in February 1906, and he
received financial help and a blessing from Parham for his planned
Seymour arrived in Los Angeles on February 22, 1906, and within two
days was preaching at Julia Hutchins’ church at the corner of Ninth
Street and Santa Fe Avenue. During his first sermon, he preached that
speaking in tongues was the first biblical evidence of the inevitable
baptism in the Holy Spirit On the following Sunday, March 4, he
returned to the church and found that Hutchins had padlocked the door.
Elders of the church rejected Seymour’s teaching, primarily because
he had not yet experienced the blessing about which he was preaching.
Condemnation of his message also came from the Holiness Church
Association of Southern California with which the church had
affiliation. However, not all members of Hutchins’ church rejected
Seymour’s preaching. He was invited to stay in the home of
congregation member Edward S. Lee, and he began to hold Bible studies
and prayer meetings there
Seymour and his small group of new followers soon relocated to the
home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street.
White families from local holiness churches began to attend as well.
The group would get together regularly and pray to receive the baptism
of the Holy Spirit. On April 9, 1906, after five weeks of Seymour’s
preaching and prayer, and three days into an intended 10-day fast,
Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. At the next
meeting, Seymour shared Lee’s testimony and preached a sermon on Acts
2:4 and soon six others began to speak in tongues as well, including
Jennie Moore, who would later become Seymour’s wife. A few days
later, on April 12, Seymour spoke in tongues for the first time after
praying all night long.
The Asberry home on 214 North Bonnie Brae Street.
News of the events at North Bonnie Brae St. quickly circulated among
the African American, Latino and White residents of the city, and for
several nights, various speakers would preach to the crowds of curious
and interested onlookers from the front porch of the Asberry home.
Members of the audience included people from a broad spectrum of
income levels and religious backgrounds. Hutchins eventually spoke in
tongues as her whole congregation began to attend the meetings. Soon
the crowds became very large and were full of people speaking in
tongues, shouting, singing and moaning. Finally, the front porch
collapsed, forcing the group to begin looking for a new meeting place.
A resident of the neighborhood described the happenings at 214 North
Bonnie Brae with the following words:
They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The
people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of
getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God’s
power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the
foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt
The group from Bonnie Brae Street eventually discovered an available
building at 312 Azusa Street, which had originally been constructed as
an African Methodist Episcopal Church in what was then a black ghetto
part of town. The rent was $8.00 per month. A newspaper referred to
the downtown Los Angeles building as a “tumble down shack”. Since the
church had moved out, the building had served as a wholesale house, a
warehouse, a lumberyard, stockyards, a tombstone shop, and had most
recently been used as a stable with rooms for rent upstairs. It was a
small, rectangular, flat-roofed building, approximately 60 feet (18 m)
long and 40 feet (12 m) wide, totaling 4,800 square feet (450 m2),
sided with weathered whitewashed clapboards. The only sign that it had
once been a house of God was a single gothic-style window over the
Discarded lumber and plaster littered the large, barn-like room on the
ground floor. Nonetheless, it was secured and cleaned in preparation
for services. They held their first meeting on April 14, 1906.
Church services were held on the first floor where the benches were
placed in a rectangular pattern. Some of the benches were simply
planks put on top of empty nail kegs. There was no elevated
platform, as the ceiling was only eight feet high. Initially there
was no pulpit. Frank Bartleman, an early participant in the revival,
recalled that “Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe
boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the
top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there.... In
that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors...”
The Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street, now considered to be the
birthplace of Pentecostalism.
By mid-May 1906, anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people would attempt to
fit into the building. Since horses had very recently been the
residents of the building, flies constantly bothered the attendees.
People from a diversity of backgrounds came together to worship: men,
women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor,
illiterate, and educated. People of all ages flocked to Los Angeles
with both skepticism and a desire to participate. The intermingling
of races and the group’s encouragement of women in leadership was
remarkable, as 1906 was the height of the “Jim Crow” era of racial
segregation, and fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in
the United States.
Today, there are more than 500 million Pentecostal and charismatic
believers across the globe.The Pentecostal denomination is currently
second in size behind the Roman Catholic Church and is the
fastest-growing form of Christianity today. The Azusa Street Revival
is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal
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