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

Pauline Parham:

One of those who applied for enrollment was William J. Seymour, who had been encouraged to do so by Lucy Farrow. His entry into the Bible school must have caused some consternation because of the Jim Crow and segregation laws at that time in Texas. Dad Parham, being from Kansas, was not used to such laws and customs and he welcomed Seymour into the classroom. There is an undocumented account, repeated in many books, that Seymour was required to sit in an adjoining room and listen to the lectures through an open door. The account I heard from those present was that he was welcomed into the class along with everyone else.

Parham and Seymour became close friends during this time. Seymour introduced Parham to some of the black churches in the Houston area and they ministered together on several occasions.3 Sometime in February, Seymour answered a call to pastor a holiness church in the Los Angeles area. Parham collected an offering for his train fare and he departed for Los Angeles.

Racial Walls Broken Down in South Texas

In the Spring of 1906, Farrow followed Seymour to Los Angeles and joined him in leading the revival that was breaking forth in an old building at 312 Azusa Street. While in Los Angeles, Farrow sensed a Divine call to Liberia from whence her ancestors had been brought to America. On her way to Virginia, where she planned to board ship for Liberia, she stopped in Houston just in time for Parham’s Apostolic Faith campmeeting.

Being a dear friend and recognizing the gift of God in her life, Parham did the “unheard of” and invited her to preach in one of the campmeeting services. The large tent under which she preached was packed to capacity and the audience listened intently as she told of her experiences in Los Angeles and of her mission to Liberia. At the close of her sermon she prayed for many to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It was a powerful time. One participant said that she possessed “an unusual power to lay hands on people for the reception of the Holy Spirit.”4 Such racial openness by Parham led James R. Goff., Jr., who did his doctoral dissertation on Parham, to declare, “In the context of the day, he could hardly be called a racist.”5

Pauline Parham:

This event, in and of itself, demonstrates that Dad Parham was not a racist as some have contended. A black woman speaking to a predominately white audience and then laying her hands on them in prayer was unheard of in south Texas at that time. Dad Parham was willing to offend local prejudices and customs if it meant helping another human being and advancing the cause of Jesus Christ.

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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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