Black History Month Spotlight: Rev. William Joseph Seymour, Mastermind Behind a Religious Movement

Every weekday this month, we’re profiling fascinating figures from L.A.’s Black history

For a running list of all our 2021 Black History Month profiles, click here.

In 1906, the charismatic preacher William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922), son of formerly enslaved parents in Louisiana, claimed a prayer meeting he was leading at 216 North Bonnie Brae Street was visited by a “move of the holy spirit.” More and more Angelenos joined the meeting and, following Seymour’s lead, began speaking in tongues. “They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere,” a neighbor recalled. “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.”

This event led to a years-long continual revival meeting, which soon moved to 312 Azusa Street. Known as the Azusa Street Revival, this “cradle of the global Pentecostal movement” featured hundreds of racially integrated and economically diverse Angelenos howling, singing, and worshiping at all hours of the day and night. A religious celebrity, Seymour eventually founded the Apostolic Faith Mission, which helped spread Pentecostalism across the world. “So many today are worshiping in the mountains, big churches, stone and frame buildings,” he once said. “But Jesus teaches that salvation is not in these stone structures–not in the mountains–not in the hills, but in God.”

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