Black Birth, Interracial Infancy, Segregated Childhood

  • Iain MacRobert


Vinson Synan — a white Pentecostal historian — has noted that black Pentecostals. ‘… often attempt to demonstrate that the pentecostal movement began as a Negro phenomenon, later accepted by whites’.1 This is certainly the opinion of black Pentecostal, James S. Tinney (1971, 1976, 1979) who asserts that ‘… Pentecostalism, both Black and white, was essentially Black in origin…’2 Leonard Lovett (1973, 1975) another black Pentecostal historian writes:

It may be categorically stated that black pentecostalism emerged out of the context of the brokenness of black existence. Interestingly, William J. Seymour, W. E. Fuller, first overseer of the black wing of the Fire Baptised Holiness Church of the Americas, C. H. Mason, founder of the Church of God in Christ, and G. T. Haywood of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, were all the sons of emancipated slaves. Their holistic view of religion had its roots in African religion.3


Black People Racial Equality Negro Church Spirit Possession Racial Pride 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Syrian, Vinson, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1961) p. 168.Google Scholar
  2. Quotation from Tinney, James S., Competing Theories of Historical Origins for Black Pentecostalism, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, 16 Nov. 1979, New York City, p. 6;Google Scholar
  3. Tinney, James S., ‘William J.Seymour: Father of Modern Day Pentecostalism’ in the Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, Georgia, vol. 4, 1976, p. 34;Google Scholar
  4. Tinney, James S., ‘Black Origins of the Pentecostal Movement’ in Christianity Today, 8 Oct. 1971.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Quotation from Lovett, Leonard, ‘Black Origins of the Pentecostal Movement’ in Synan, Vinson (ed.), Aspects of Pentecostal-Charasmatic Origins (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975) p. 138;Google Scholar
  6. Lovett, Leonard, ‘Perspectives on the Black Origins of the Contemporary Pentecostal Movement’ in the Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, op. cit., vol. 1, 1973, pp. 42–6.Google Scholar
  7. David Beckman has also written on the black origins of Pentecostalism. See Beckman, David M., Black Origins of Possession by the Holy Spirit, unpublished paper, 1973, andGoogle Scholar
  8. Beckman, David M. ‘Trance from Africa to Pentecostalism’ in Concordia Theological Monthly, vol. 45, no. 1, Jan. 1874, pp. 11–26. The New York American, 3 Dec. 1906, repoerted that ‘The leaders of this strange movement are for the most part Negroes’, quoted in Hollen weger, Walter J., ‘A Black Pentecostal Concept, A Foreign Chapter of Black History: the Black Pentecostals’ Contribution to the Church Universal’, in Concept, no. 50, June 1970, p. 13.Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    Synan, Holiness-Pentecostal, passim. See also Kelsey, Morton, T. Tongues Speaking (New York: Doubleday, 1961) pp. 64–5;Google Scholar
  10. Nelson, Douglas J., For Such a Time as this: the Story of Bishop William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Birmingham, May 1981, passim.Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    Hollenweger, Walter J., The Pentecostals (London: SCM Press, 1972) pp. 23–4; originally in his ten-volume Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung (Geneva) 1965–67. See also Hollenweger, Concept, pp. 11–17. Hollenweger’s recognition of the black origins of the Pentecostal movement is particularly perceptive since it was made in 1965 and based exclusively on white sources. This assessment of origins which was mainly intuitive has been upheld by subsequent research. Conversation with W.J. Hollenweger, 21 Dec. 1984.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    The Apostolic Faith, vol. 1, no. 1, Sept. 1906, p. 3, col. 2; ibid., vol. 1, no. 4, Dec. 1906, p. 1, cols 2, 5; The Kansas City Journal, 22 Jan. 1901 describing Parham’s ministry referred to the ‘Gift of Tongues’ but reported that: ‘In many respects it recalled an old-fashioned Methodist prayer meeting.’ Quoted in Parham, Sarah E. (comp.), The Life of Charles F.Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement (Joplin, Missouri: Tri-State Printing Co., 1930) pp. 71–2.Google Scholar
  13. 7.
    Los Angeles Daily Times, Wednesday morning, 18 Apr. 1906, Part II, p. 1, text reproduced in Nelson pp. 313–14, and Bartleman, Frank Azusa Street (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1980) pp. 175–6.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Apostolic Faith (Baxter Springs, Kansas, Apr. 1925) pp. 9–10, quoted in Anderson, Robert Mapes, A Social History of the Early Twentieth Century Pentecostal Movement, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 1969 (High Wycombe: University Microfilms, 1972) p. 320. Parham made it clear that when the glossolalic manifestations occurred in 1901 at his College of Bethel, ‘There was no violent physical manifestation, though some trembled under the power of the glory that filled them.’ Everything, he stressed was done with ‘propriety and decency’ (Parham, Life, pp. 53, 55, 144, 155–6). Later, in 1911, he wrote: ‘Two-thirds of this tongue stuff over the country is not Pentecost. The counterfeits have no real languages, and fleshly controls of spiritualistic origin have destroyed their soul saving power.’Google Scholar
  15. He also implicitly recognised the African influences at the Azusa Mission when he scathingly wrote: ‘The Pentecostal Assemblies originated in a negro mission in Los Angeles, California, and is a cross between the old-fashioned negro worship of the South, and Holy-Rollerism’ (Parham, Charles Fox, The Everlasting Gospel [Baxter Springs, Kansas: Robert L. Parham, 1942; originally 1911] pp. 31, 118.Google Scholar
  16. Another severe critic of Azusa Street, Nettie Harwood, described what was probably African motor behaviour when she reported witnessing: ‘A young colored woman, doing her best to get the gibberish, went through all kinds of muscular contortions in her efforts to get her tongue to work’ (White, Alma, Demons and Tongues [Zarepath, New Jersey: Pillar of Fire, 1949; originally 1936] p. 72).Google Scholar
  17. Although Parham’s meetings were extremely restrained, this was not the norm among early Pentecostals. Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson, for example, reported: ‘Men, Women, children screaming, shouting, praying, leaping, dancing and falling prostrate on the straw. Wonderful’ (Tomlinson, Ambrose Jessup, Diary of A.J. Tomlinson. vol.1, 1901 to 1923 [New York: The Church of God, World Headquarters, 1949] p. 98 passim).Google Scholar
  18. Henke, Frederic G; ‘The Gift of Tongues and Related Phenomena at the Present Day’ in American Journal of Theology, vol. XIII, 1909, pp. 196–7Google Scholar
  19. 12.
    Polman, G. R., Letter to G. A. Wumkers, 27 Feb. 1915 (trans, by P. N. van der Laan and Maryke Brevet). See also Wumkers, G.A., De Pinksterbeweging Woornamelyk in Nederland (Amsterdam, 1917) p. 4; (originally published as a leaflet in 1916) in which Wumkers virtually quotes Polman and notes that ‘Because ofthat one also speaks of the Los Angeles-movement’ (photostats provided by P. N. van der Laan, Apr. 1984).Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    Anderson, Robert, Spirit Manifestations and the Gift of Tongues, 1912, in the catalogue of the British Library, vol. 8, pp. 67–8.Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    Washington, Joseph R., Black Sects and Cults (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1973) passim.Google Scholar
  22. 30.
    Christenson, Larry, ‘Pentecostalism’s Forgotten Forerunner’ in Synan, Aspects, p. 72. Parham had also stressed the power aspect of Spirit baptism. He preached: ‘The mighty power of God is just as capable in our lives today of performing His divine will as it was 1900 years ago… The power of Pentecost is manifest in us. It has not been manifest in men for 1900 years, because the church has left the power of God. The Christian religion must be demonstrated. The world wants to be shown. Then let God’s power be manifest thru us’ (Parham, Life, p. 74; see also pp. 76, 113; Parham, Charles Fox, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness [Joplin, Missouri: Joplin Printing Co., 1944; originally 1902] p. 4).Google Scholar
  23. 37.
    Brunner, Emil, The Misunderstanding of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1954) pp. 51–2.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Iain MacRobert 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iain MacRobert
    • 1
  1. 1.LangleyUSA

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