William Joseph Seymour (1870~1922)
Azusa Street Revival
William J. Seymour was born in Centerville, Louisiana on May 2, 1870 to former slaves, Simon and Phyllis Seymour. Raised as a Baptist, William was given to dreams and visions as a young man. Although little is recorded about hus early life, it is known that he migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1895. While in Indianapolis he joined a local black Methodist Episcopal Church.
From 1900 to 1902 William lived in Cincinnati, Ohio where he came in contact with the Holiness Movement. Accepting the Holiness emphasis on entite sanctification, William joined the Church of God Reformation Movement, also known as the “Evening Light Saints”.
While in Indianapolis, William Seymour contracted smallpox, which left him without the use of his left eye. While reflecting on his illness, he accepted the call to preach. In a short time he was licensed and ordained as a minister of the “Evening Light Saints” movement.
In 1903, Seymour moved to Houston, Texas in search of his family. He began to attend a Holiness Church pastored by Lucy Farrow. When pastor Farrow accompaned Charles Parham back to Galena, Kansas in 1905 to work as a governess in his home, Seymour was asked to become the pastor of the church.
In October 1905, Farrow retuened to Houston with a new experience of speaking in tongues, which she had accepted under Parham’s influence. By December 1905, Parham moved his Bible school to Houston, where he taught that the “initial” evidence of receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost was speaking in other tongues.
Ever hungry for biblical training, Seymour enrolled in Parham’s school, despite the prevailing system of racial segregation in the South. To satisfy Southern law, Seymour would have to sit in the hall where he could only hear the lessons through the doorway, and not inneract with the other students. However, according to Sarah Parham, her husbands great love for Bro. Seymour over-rode the segregational laws by giving him his rightful place in the class-room with the other students to learn the things of God. Under Parham’s teaching, Seymour accepted the promise, that speaking in tongues was a present day sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While in Houston, Seymour was visited by a young woman named Neely Terry from a Holiness Church in Los Angeles, California. She invited him to visit her California congregation with the possibility of becoming the pastor. Charles Parham had hoped that Seymour would stay in houston and reach the black community with the Apostolic message. However, Parham gathered enough money, andpaid for Seymour’s rail fare to Los Angeles.
In his first sermon in Los Angeles, Seymour preached Acts 2:4 and to the dismay of the pastor, he announced the necessity of speaking in other tongues as evidence of the Pentecostal experience. Because of opposition from the Holiness Association, the church doors were locked, barring Seymour from entering, therefore, he was forced to find refuge in the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry on Bonnie Brae Street.
After several weeks of prayer meetings in the Asberry home, Seymour and others received thebaptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence. The event sparked an intense revival. For a time services were held on the front porch where Seymour preached to large crowds gathered in the street. As the numbers increased, larger facilities were needed if the services were to continue. A search of the downtown area of Los Angeles produced an old building at 312 Azusa Street, that had formerly been an African Methodist Church, but had recently been used as a stable and warehouse.
On April 14, 1906 Seymour held his first service in the Azusa Street mission. On April 18, the day of the San Francisco earthquake, the first report of the Los Angeles Times spoke of a “Weird babble of tongues” amid “Weird scenes” in the mission. By May, more than 1000 people were trying to enter the small 40 by 60 foot mission, to witness the scenes that had rivaled those of Cane Ridge only a century earlier.
The central feature of Azusa Street however, was speaking in tongues, which electrified the services and attracted many to the altars to receive the baptism. By the end of 1906, Seymour officially incorporated his ministry as the Pacific Apostolic Faith Movement.
Soon, visitors from around the nation, and from foreign lands journyed to Los Angeles to receive their own Pentecostal experience. The unity of Seymour’s Azusa Street Revival was remarkable in that people of practically every nationality, race, and culture attended the services. It seemed that the color line had been washed away by the blood of Jesus.
When Seymour died on September 28, 1922 his wife continued as pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. Practically every early Pentecostal movement can trace its origins directly or indirectly to Seymour’s Azusa Street Mission.