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Across the Lines: Charles Parham’s Contribution to the Inter-Racial Character of Early Pentecostalism, by Eddie Hyatt

In the South, the racial apartheid was even more pronounced. Jim Crow laws designed to marginalize the black populace were in place. Blacks were required to use separate public restrooms and drinking fountains. They were required to sit in separate sections on trains, buses, in restaurants and in all public facilities. All public education was segregated according to race. Blacks lived in separate neighborhoods and both overt and subtle forms of intimidation were used to keep them “in their place.”

Parham’s First Serious Encounter With the Race Issue

During the summer of 1905, Parham, for the first time, ventured south across the Mason-Dixon line into Texas. He went there to declare his newly discovered message of the baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. Five years earlier, the students in his Bible school in Topeka had identified speaking in tongues as the “Bible evidence” of Spirit baptism. Almost immediately the entire school experienced a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit with virtually everyone present, including Parham, speaking in tongues. Parham believed that their experience signaled the beginning of the world-wide, last-days effusion of the Spirit promised in Acts 2:17, and he had come South to declare this newly discovered truth.

In the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared 11 a.m. on Sunday morning to be the most segregated time in America. It was even more so fifty years earlier.

Parham arrived in Houston with about twenty-five workers in July of 1905. For the first time he encountered a large black populace and an intense racial prejudice he had not known in his home state of Kansas. He conducted a very successful meeting in Bryan Hall which was attended by a number of blacks who, because of local law and custom, probably sat in segregated seating. Nonetheless, he reached out to the black populace and made friends with black leaders such as Lucy Farrow and William Seymour. In fact, his racial openness made some white Christians in Houston very uncomfortable. A white pastor, referring to Parham and his Kansas workers, wrote the following rebuke in December of 1905.

I trust, therefore, that our evangelists and workers from the North will not forget this condition of affairs [racial segregation] and embarrass the work South by well meaning but mistaken efforts to disregard them. Let the race question alone until you have been South long enough to know by experience what it seems impossible for our Northern brethren to learn through other sources.2

Parham Makes Friends With Black Leaders

When the Parhams returned to Baxter Springs, they invited Farrow to go with them. She accepted the invitation and, before leaving, turned her congregation over to a black preacher named William Seymour. In Kansas, Farrow lived in the Parham home and acted as a “governess” to the Parham children who endearingly referred to her as “Auntie.” While in Kansas, Farrow was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

Farrow returned to Houston with the Parhams in December of 1905 and shared with Seymour her experience of Spirit baptism. She also informed him of a Bible school that Parham was about to open in Houston. Seymour applied for enrollment and was accepted. According to one account, Seymour sat in an adjoining room where, through an open door, he listened to the lectures. This arrangement, if true, would not be surprising because of the Jim Crow laws and prevailing custom of segregation. Nonetheless, the Parham family heard a different story about this situation.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2004, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Eddie L. Hyatt, D.Min. (Regent University), M.Div. and M.A. (Oral Roberts University), serves the body of Christ around the world by teaching with academic excellence and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He has authored several books, including 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity. His passion is to see authentic spiritual awakening transform the Church and impact the world in the Twenty-first century.

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