In 1857, four years before the outbreak of the Civil War, a Great Prayer Awakening swept unexpectedly across America. As if drawn by an invisible force, multitudes daily gathered in churches, halls, fire stations and auditoriums to pour out their hearts to God. In major and smaller cities businesses closed for noon prayer meetings and these massive prayer gatherings became front page news stories.
As pointed out in Part 1 of this series, the First Great Awakening breached the racial chasm in Colonial America and unleashed a “moral outrage” against slavery at a time when it was practiced and accepted throughout most of the world. Now, 100 years later, this Great Prayer Awakening would release the spiritual and moral forces necessary to end slavery and preserve the nation through a devastating Civil War.
Begins with Praying for the Conversion of Sinners
This Prayer Awakening began when a businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, began a noon-hour prayer meeting on Fulton Street in downtown New York City to pray for the conversion of the many new immigrants that were pouring into the city. Although starting slowly, the daily prayer gathering caught fire with hundreds attending from throughout the city and many marvelous conversions to Christ occurring.
From this Fulton Street meeting, a spirit of prayer seemed to be unleashed upon the nation. Prayer meetings began springing up in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago and in a multitude of smaller cities and rural areas.
People across the nation crowded into churches, fire stations, lodges and halls to pour out their hearts to God in prayer. It seemed that God Himself was gathering the people to prepare them for the dark and terrible night that was looming.
Charles G. Finney told of a prayer meeting in Boston in which a man stood and declared that he had just travelled almost two thousand miles from Omaha, Nebraska and had found “a continuous prayer meeting all the way (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 22).
Finney described 1857-58 as a time when “a divine influence seemed to pervade the whole land.” He estimated that at the height of the revival fifty-thousand per week were being converted—and that without the aid of modern communication and technology (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 26).
Conservative estimates place the total number of conversions at around one million, but some have suggested that as many as two million may have been converted. The March 1858 issue of a religious journal reported,
The large cities and towns from Maine to California are sharing in this great and glorious work. There is hardly a village or town to be found where ‘a special divine power’ does not appear displayed (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 26).
People Gripped by Holy Spirit Conviction
The prayer meetings were characterized by a solemn sense of God’s presence and much convicting power. Sinners seemed helpless in God’s presence as the arrows of the Almighty pierced their hearts.
For example, in a noon prayer meeting at a church in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, the sanctuary was crowded with a standing-room-only crowd when a prayer request was read from a wife asking prayer for her unsaved husband.
Immediately, a man stood to his feet and with tears exclaimed, “I am that man. My wife is a good Christian woman and she must have sent that request. Please pray for me.” He sat down and immediately a man in another part of the house stood to his feet weeping, and as if he had not heard the first man, declared, “That was my wife who sent that request. She is a good Christian woman and I have treated her badly. Please pray for me!” He sat down and another man stood, also convinced that it was his wife who sent the prayer request and after him a fourth and a fifth with similar confessions.
Four young sailors began a prayer meeting on the battleship, the North Carolina, which was docked in New York Harbor, serving as a receiving ship for the navy. Crewmen from different ships changed their assignment through this ship.
As the four young men prayed night after night, revival suddenly erupted as God’s presence filled the ship and powerful conviction gripped the hearts and minds of all on board. Night after night sailors bowed humbly before the Lord and with tears of repentance called on His name. Hundreds were converted. Many were afterwards transferred to other ships and revival fires were kindled wherever they went.
One writer described a “zone of heavenly influence” that pervaded the eastern seaboard, extending out into the Atlantic and impacting the passengers and crews of approaching ships. He wrote,
Revival began aboard one ship before it reached the coast. People on board began to feel the presence of God and the sense of their own sinfulness. The Holy Spirit convicted them, and they began to pray. As the ship neared the harbor, the captain signaled, “Send a minister.” Another small commercial ship arrived in port with the captain, and every member of the crew converted in the last 150 miles. Ship after ship arrived with the same story: both passengers and crew were suddenly convicted of sin and turned to Christ before they reached the American coast (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 25).
The Nation is Awakened
A young D. L. Moody attended daily prayer meetings in Chicago and wrote to his mother, “Oh, how I do enjoy it! It seems as if God were here Himself.” In Washington D.C., Presidents Pierce (1853-57) and Buchannan (1857-61) attended prayer meetings that were organized in that city.
In Charleston, South Carolina, the black pastor of the Anson Street Presbyterian Church, a church established for slaves, began a prayer meeting in 1858. John Giardeau exhorted his congregation to pray and “wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
The prayer service grew until the auditorium was overflowing with more than two thousand people. As on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit suddenly fell upon those at the Anson Street Church.
They began to sob, softly, like the falling of rain; then, with deeper emotion, to weep bitterly, or to rejoice loudly, according to their circumstances. It was midnight before he could dismiss the congregation. The meeting went on night and day for weeks. Large numbers of both black and white were converted and joined churches in the city (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 26-26).
The Prayer Revival had a profound impact on all segments of the society. It was a common sight for businesses to have signs on their doors informing customers that they were closed for the noon prayer meeting.
Newspapers carried regular reports of the revival and its progress. The editors of the daily New York Herald carried a regular section called “Revival Extras” by which they informed their readers of the latest news concerning the revival.
One Chicago newspaper carried a report which shows the impact the revival was having on the society at large. It read,
So far as the effects of the present religious movement are concerned, they are apparent to all. They are to be seen in every walk of life, to be felt in every place of society. The merchant, the farmer, the mechanic—all who have been within their influence—have been incited to better things; to a more orderly and honest way of life (Hyatt, The Great Prayer Awakening, 30).
Prayer Wins the War and Saves the Union
Although this great Prayer Revival is often identified with the years 1857-58, it did not suddenly cease after those dates. Those dates merely identify the revival at its height and period of its greatest impact. There is evidence of its continuation and of prayer being prominent in both Northern and Southern armies.
When, for example, things were not going well for the Union army in the early days of the war, President Lincoln expressed concern that the “rebel soldiers” were praying more fervently than those of the North. The noted historian, Mark A. Noll, says, “Revivals were common in both camps of the Blue and the Gray.”
Nonetheless, with the North suffering one defeat after another and things looking grim for the state of the Union, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution asking the president to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer.
President Lincoln then designated April 30, 1863 as a national day of humiliation, prayer and the confession of national sins, which would include the sin of slavery. The following is a selected portion of his proclamation.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessing no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. By the President: Abraham Lincoln.
Because the Great Prayer Awakening was still fresh in the minds of the people, they responded en masse to Lincoln’s call to prayer. And after this national day of repentance and prayer, there was an almost immediate turn of the war in favor of the North--but not before one last severe test of faith.
The following June, a confident General Robert E. Lee led 76,000 Confederate troops north into Union territory, i.e., into Pennsylvania. The populace was terrified and there was much panic. Lincoln, however, having been impacted by the Prayer Revival, found solace in prayer. He said,
When everyone seemed panic-stricken, I went to my room and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed. Soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul that God Almighty had taken the whole business into His own hands.
The Confederate forces were defeated at Gettysburg on July 3 and that battle proved to be the turning point for the war. It was also the occasion of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” one of the most significant speeches ever delivered by a national leader.
Some would say the victory at Gettysburg was coincidental, but the change came on heels of the national day of repentance, prayer and fasting. One writer surmised that the North did not win the Civil War, but that prayer won the war.
The War Ends • The Healing Continues
For all practical purposes, the War ended in the spring of 1865, when Robert E. Lee and the last major Confederate army surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9. Over the next few months smaller units throughout the South laid down their arms and the bloodiest four years in American history came to an end.
It was from this era and out of this environment of both prayer and war that the Negro spiritual came forth that included the repeated phrase, “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” It captured the deepest feelings of many who longed for peace and a sense of God’s blessing once again on the nation.
Gonna lay down my burdens,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside.
Gonna lay down my burdens,
Down by the riverside.
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
Gonna sit down with Jesus,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside.
Gonna sit down with Jesus,
Down by the riverside.
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's latest book, The Great Prayer Awakening of 1857-58, available from Amazon in both paperback and kindle. To learn more about his ministry and vision for another Great Awakening, visit his website at www.eddiehyatt.com.



This is Part 1 of a Series on the Role of Spiritual Awakening  in Ending Slavery in America.

The brilliant historian, Dr. Thomas Sowell, who happens to be black, points out that although slavery has been a world-wide institution practiced by peoples and civilizations for thousands of years, it only became controversial in the 18th century in Western civilization and particularly in America. In the chapter entitled "Twisted History" in his book, The Thomas Sowell Reader, he writes,
Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century – and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.
Walter E. Williams, the black Professor of Economics at George Mason University, has made the same point and commented that the unique characteristic of slavery in America—as opposed to the rest of world history--was the “moral outrage” against it.

The Source of this Moral Outrage
In this article, I intend to show that this “moral outrage” against slavery in America was a product of the First Great Awakening that ebbed and flowed between 1726-70. I will argue that this Awakening, that revitalized Christianity in Colonial America, unleashed the spiritual and moral forces that ultimately ended slavery in America and throughout the Western world.
As a result of the Great Awakening, the racial chasm was breached, slaves were humanized, and whites were awakened to the evils of slavery. The Great Awakening, indeed, produced the “moral outrage” mentioned by Sowell and Williams, and it marked the beginning of the end of slavery in America.
George Whitfield Reaches Out to Blacks in His Preaching 
The revivalists of the Great Awakening targeted blacks, both slave and free, with their message of a new birth and new life in Jesus Christ. None were more purposeful in this than George Whitefield, the fiery, British revivalist, who has been called “America’s Spiritual Founding Father.”
Whitefield, for example, preached numerous times from the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse to crowds of 10,000 and more, when the population of the city was only 13,000. Among those listening was Benjamin Franklin who became a close friend and business partner with Whitefield.

In the crowds were also numerous blacks who were especially receptive to the evangelical, revival message that he preached. This was borne out by the fact that, after preaching his farewell sermon and retiring to his lodgings, he noted in his Journal, “Near 50 Negroes came to give me thanks for what God had done for their souls.” Whitefield considered this an answer to prayer, saying, “I have been much drawn in prayer for them, and have seen them wrought upon by the word preached” (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 94).
One black woman who was converted under Whitefield’s ministry became discouraged and prayed that the Lord would manifest Himself to her. Shortly thereafter both she and Whitefield were in a meeting where a Baptist minister was preaching. Whitefield said that the word came with such power that the woman began to cry out and “could not help praising and blessing God.”
When some criticized her for interrupting the preacher, Whitefield came to her defense saying he believed that, in that hour, “the Lord Jesus took a great possession of her soul.” He went on to say, “I doubt not, when the poor Negroes are to be called, God will highly favor them, to wipe off their reproach, and show that He is no respecter of persons” (Hyatt, Pilgrim and Patriots, 95).
It is obvious that in these revival meetings blacks and whites were worshiping together. This should not be surprising, for in genuine spiritual awakening, the Holy Spirit breaks down racial and cultural barriers, and this occurred in the Great Awakening. Mark Noll, Professor of Church History at Wheaton College, confirms this, saying, “It was under the impulse of the revival that the chasm between white and black cultures was breached.”
Whitefield’s impact among the black populace of Colonial America is indicated by the moving tribute that a young black woman, Phillis Wheatley, wrote at the time of his death in 1770. Wheatley heard Whitefield preach in Boston on more than one occasion and was profoundly impacted by his ministry (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 94-95).
Wheatley, who became America’s first published black poet, was 17 years old when she wrote the poem about Whitefield. The words of her poem express the strains of equality she heard in the Gospel he preached. It reads in part,
Thou didst in strains of eloquence refined,
Inflame the heart and captivate the mind.
The greatest gift that even God can give,
He freely offered to the numerous throng.
Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you,
Impartial Savior is his title due.
Wheatley obviously quoted directly from Whitefield’s preaching in her poem. Knowing Whitefield’s passionate form of preaching, one can picture him crying out to the blacks in his audience, “Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you.”
This must have been the case in one Philadelphia meeting where Whitefield’s message left many blacks weeping and in awe. One black woman said that he must have been in a trance and insisted that, “Jesus Christ must have told him what to speak to the people or else he could not speak as he did” (Hyatt, Pilgrim and Patriots, 95).
Other Revivalists Target Blacks in Their Outreaches
Further south, Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian minister who served as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), gave special attention to blacks, including slaves, during his time of ministry in Virginia. He was greatly encouraged by their enthusiastic response to the Gospel and wrote,
My principal encouragement of late has been among the poor negro slaves; in the land of their slavery they have been brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
Davies not only preached to blacks, both slave and free, he treated them as brothers and sisters in Christ, inviting them to share in regular church observances including the Lord’s Supper. In 1757, he wrote,
What little success I have lately had, has been chiefly among the extremes of Gentlemen and Negroes. Indeed, God has been remarkably working among the latter. I have baptized 150 adults; and at the last sacramental solemnity, I had the pleasure of seeing the table graced with sixty black faces (Hyatt, Pilgrim and Patriots, 95).
Back to the north, Gilbert Tennent was delighted that during a preaching tour in Massachusetts, “multitudes were awakened, and several received great consolation, especially among the young people, children, and Negroes” (Hyatt, Pilgrim and Patriots, 93). Jonathan Edwards, in his account of the Awakening in his hometown of Northampton, mentions “several Negroes” who appeared to have been truly born again.
Anti-Slavery Sentiments are Aroused
Whitfield has been criticized for not opposing the institution of slavery. That is a valid criticism, but Whitfield saw his purpose to be in getting people ready for the next world, not improving their lot in this one. He preached in the light of eternity, and in his thinking, a slave on his way to heaven was far better off than a king on his way to hell.
In this sense, Whitefield treated everyone the same. Rich and poor, slave and free, male and female were all in the same predicament--guilty sinners before God--with only one solution for all, that being faith in Jesus Christ. This had a leveling effect on American society for tens of thousands, both black and white, heard Whitefield preach and he became the most recognized figure in Colonial America.
Whitefield's passion to reach American blacks with the gospel breached racial barriers and opened the way for others to take the work of racial reconciliation further, and they did. Historian, Benjamin Hart, has noted, “Among the most ardent opponents of slavery were ministers, particularly the Puritan and revivalist preachers.”
These "ardent opponents of slavery" included the followers of Jonathan Edwards who expanded on his idea of the essential dignity of all created beings and applied it to the blacks of Colonial America.
Samuel Hopkins, for example, who had been personally tutored by Edwards, sent a pamphlet to every member of the Continental Congress asking how they could complain about “enslavement” to Great Britain and overlook the enslavement of so many blacks in the colonies. Noll says,
In this attack on slavery Hopkins was joined by other followers of Edwards, including Levi Hart in Connecticut, Jacob Green in New Jersey, and Edwards’ own son, Jonathan, Jr., who was also a minister in Connecticut.
Blacks Join the Patriotic Protests
The Awakening thus led to the humanizing of blacks and a general awakening to the evils of slavery. It also led to the emergence of new, black congregations and preachers, among those who were enslaved and those who were free. This then led to many blacks identifying with the struggle for freedom from Great Britain and becoming part of the patriotic protests, especially in New England.
For example, at the time of the Boston Massacre in April of 1770, a large black man, Crispus Attucks, was one of the leaders in the protests against the occupation of Boston by British troops. An escaped slave who had settled in Boston, he was one of those of those killed that day by British soldiers. A poem written in his honor refers to him as,
Leader and voice that day;
The first to defy and the first to die
The positive ripples from the Awakening also opened the way for blacks to later serve in the Revolutionary War. David Barton has provided documentation showing that numbers of blacks were given honorable discharges and pensions, and some were honored with complete military funerals for their service in the War.
The anti-slavery sentiments unleashed by the Awakening were so strong in the North that when separation with Great Britain came in 1776, several states, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, immediately took steps to formally abolish slavery, something they could not do under King George III.
Although there was more resistance in the South, where a monetary motive prevailed, the anti-slavery sentiments released by the Great Awakening flowered into the abolition movement of the next century, which, as Dr. Timothy Smith has shown, had its roots in American revivalism, starting with the First Great Awakening (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 97).
The Great Awakening Moved America in the Right Direction
The impact of the Great Awakening led to most Americans, especially in the North, abhorring slavery. It also put those in the South on the defensive. In their heart of hearts, they knew they were wrong even as they struggled to produce moral arguments defending the institution.
By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, most Founders had come to agree with John Adams who said,
Every measure of prudence . . . ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States. I have throughout my whole life held the practice of slavery in abhorrence.
Yet, despite the impact of the Awakening, the slavery issue was not settled at the nation’s founding. The institution had become so entrenched and entangled with the economy and culture of the South that the Founders were unwilling to risk a fragmented Union by outlawing the institution. Sowell has said,
Deciding that slavery was wrong was much easier than deciding what to do with millions of people from another continent, of another race, and without any historical preparation for living as free citizens in a society like that of the United States, where they were 20 percent of the population. It is clear from the private correspondence of Washington, Jefferson, and many others that their moral rejection of slavery was unambiguous, but the practical question of what to do now had them baffled. That would remain so for more than half a century.

To their credit, the Founders outlawed slavery in the newly formed Northwest Territory and in any new states to be formed. They also worded the Constitution in such a way that the rights guaranteed therein could not be denied to anyone based on race or skin color.
Nonetheless, their concessions to the southern states sparked further “moral outrage” and warnings of Divine judgement. This “moral outrage” would flower into the abolition movement of the next century and finally lead to the end of slavery in America, but only after another Great Awakening and a Civil War.
Concluding Thought
This is a fact: It was a revitalized Christianity that provided the spiritual and moral forces that would eventually bring an end to slavery in America. Yes, it was the Great Awakening that produced the unique “moral outrage” of which Sowell and Williams have written.
This is so because only true Christianity changes hearts and produces a people characterized by peace and compassion. This is why it will take more than political and legislative activism to resolve racial tensions in contemporary America.
We ought to take a lesson from history and pray for another Great Awakening across the land. We should recall the words of Samuel Adams, known as the Father of the American Revolution, who as governor of Massachusetts, proclaimed a Day of Prayer in 1795 in which he asked the people to,
Pray that the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known throughout the whole family of mankind.
Stay tuned for Part 2.

This article was derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's book, Pilgrims and Patriots, which is available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. Dr. Hyatt has also produced a PowerPoint presentation called “America Reawakening” that he shares in churches, schools, colleges and other venues. To contact him, send an email to dreddiehyatt@gmail.com.



God used a southern black preacher, reared under Jim Crow and with little formal education, to ignite a revival that has reshaped the face of Christianity around the world. The Azusa Street Revival (1906-09) ignited a world-wide movement that Harvard professor, Dr. Harvey Cox, says is still “reshaping religion in the 21st century.”

William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922), the leader of the revival, was born to former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour in Centerville, LA where they attended the local black Baptist church. William committed his life to Christ at an early age and experience the call of God, even as a youth.

Although little is known of his early life, he would have been reared in the poverty and segregation that was the lot of most blacks in the South at that time.

He Finds His Way to Houston

In 1895, at the age of 25, Seymour moved to Indianapolis, IN where he worked for a time as a waiter in a fashionable restaurant. In 1900 he moved to Cincinnati, OH where he encountered “holiness” teachings through the Church of God (Anderson, IN). Seymour embraced this teaching of a second blessing, called sanctification, that would purify the heart and enable one to live a victorious life over sin.

In 1903, Seymour moved to Houston, TX where he began attending a black “holiness” church pastored by Lucy Farrow, the niece of Frederick Douglas. When Farrow accepted an invitation to go to Kansas with Charles and Sarah Parham, she turned the congregation over to Seymour and he became the pastor.

In 1906 Farrow returned to Houston with the Parhams and reconnected with Seymour. She told him of an experience she had while in Kansas called the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” which had been accompanied by speaking in tongues as on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:4. Seymour was deeply impacted by her testimony.
After a series of meetings in the city, Parham decided to remain in Houston and open a Bible school in a large house that he rented for that purpose. Wanting to learn more about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, Seymour enrolled in the school.
His application created somewhat of a problem because of southern Jim Crow laws and customs that mandated the segregation of blacks and whites. Parham skirted the local restrictions by arranging for Seymour to sit in an adjoining room where he could listen to the classes through an open door.
Seymour was thus able to hear Parham’s teaching of a baptism in the Holy Spirit with the “Bible evidence” of speaking in tongues, and it resonated deeply with him.
Seymour Departs for Los Angeles
While attending classes and continuing to pastor his congregation, Seymour received an invitation to go to Los Angeles and pastor a storefront holiness mission. He sensed God calling him to Los Angeles and departed Houston sometime in February 1906.
Although Seymour had not received the experience Parham preached, he was fully convinced of its veracity and was prepared to preach it without compromise. In his first service at the mission in Los Angeles he, therefore, broached the subject of a third blessing called the baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.
His audience, however, was not open to this teaching and when Seymour returned for the evening service, he found the door padlocked. The elders had decided that he was preaching false doctrine and chose to lock him out.
Deep Spiritual Hunger & Prayer Bring Revival
Some of the members had compassion on Seymour and he was invited to stay in the homes of Edward Lee and then Richard Asberry. Having an intense hunger for the life and power of the Holy Spirit, Seymour gave himself to almost constant prayer. He later said,
Before I met Parham, such a hunger to have more of God was in my heart that I prayed for five hours a day for two and a half years. I got to Los Angeles, and there the hunger was not less but more. I prayed, “God, what can I do?” The Spirit said, “Pray more.” “But Lord, I am praying five hours a day now.” I increased my hours of prayer to seven and prayed on for a year and a half more. I prayed to God to give what Parham preached, the real Holy Ghost and fire with tongues with love and power of God like the apostles had (Hyatt, 2000 Years ofCharismatic Christianity, 144).

Noticing that their new guest was spending much of his time in prayer, the Asberrys decided to open their home, at 214 Bonnie Brae Street, to evening prayer meetings. When revival erupted in the prayer meeting, the crowds came and soon overflowed onto the porch and lawn.

Realizing that the Asberry home was too small to contain the crowds, Seymour and others began looking for larger facilities for their prayer meeting. They finally located an older dilapidated building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. This 40’ x 60’ two-story structure had formerly been a Methodist Episcopal Church, but more recently had been used as a stable and warehouse.

They removed the debris and installed rough plank benches and a makeshift pulpit made from wooden shoeboxes. On April 14, 1906, they held their first meeting in the new facilities and revival fires blazed even more brightly.

Although the prayer meeting was soon organized into a church that they called the Apostolic Faith Mission, prayer continued to be the foremost activity. One participant said, “The whole place was steeped in prayer” (Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, 145).

Seymour, the recognized leader, spent much of his time behind the pulpit with his head inside the top shoebox praying. An unpretentious man, he recognized his own need for the continual guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit. A contemporary, John G. Lake, described him as a man of great spiritual power. He wrote,

God had put such a hunger into that man's heart that when the fire of God came it glorified him. I do not believe any other man in modern times had a more wonderful deluge of God in his life than God gave to that dear fellow, and the glory and power of a real Pentecost swept the world. That black man preached to my congregation of ten thousand people when the glory and power of God was upon his spirit, and men shook and trembled and cried to God. God was in him (Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, 145).

Christ Centered, Holy Spirit Empowered Meetings

The services at Azusa were spontaneous. There were no pre-announced events, no special choirs, singers, or well-known evangelists. With no platform, everyone was on the same level and anyone was free to share a testimony or word of exhortation.

Although the building was never empty of people at prayer, the services usually began spontaneously around mid-morning and continued until three or four the following morning. One participant gave this description of a typical service.

Someone might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God Himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over the house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar enmasse to seek God. Presumptuous men would sometimes come among us. Especially preachers who would try to spread themselves in self-opinionation. But their effort was short lived. Their minds would wander, their brains reel. Things would turn black before their eyes. They could not go on. We simply prayed. The Holy Ghost did the rest (Hyatt, 2000 Years of CharismaticChristianity, 145).

Although dramatic Spiritual manifestations captured the attention of the general public, Seymour made a point to keep Christ at the center of the revival. When asked by a certain woman to pray that she might speak in tongues, Seymour kindly exhorted, “Now see here, Sister Sadie, don’t you ever go looking for tongues. Seek Jesus for Himself. Seek the Lord. He’s the One.”

Frank Bartleman, who often gave exhortations at the revival, agreed with Seymour and said, “I endeavored to keep Him [Christ] as the central theme and figure before the people.” The January 1907 issue of The Apostolic Faith warned the people not to become preoccupied with the manifestations but to stay focused on Jesus.

We do not have time to preach anything else but Christ. The Holy Spirit has not time to magnify anything but the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are simply a voice shouting, “Behold the Lamb of God!” When we commence shouting something else, then Christ will die in us. If Christ be lifted up, he will draw all men unto Himself.”

The Crowds Flock to Azusa

As services continued at the Azusa Street Mission, the news spread by word of mouth and religious periodicals that God was doing a unique work there. The Los Angeles Times gave local coverage, that although negative, caught the attention of the local populace. Seymour began a paper called The Apostolic Faith that soon reached a distribution of 40,000 copies.

News of the revival raised interest everywhere and soon the faithful and the curious were journeying from far and near to experience the event. They came from across the United States and Canada and from foreign lands.

Missionaries on foreign soil heard of the revival and came. Visitors claimed that they could feel a supernatural atmosphere within several blocks of the mission. Multitudes received the Pentecostal experience and went forth with new zeal, fresh vision, and a new message of Spirit-empowerment for world evangelism.

Several denominations were swept into the revival as a result of their leaders visiting the revival or by being impacted by someone who had just visited the revival. Future denominational leaders were also impacted by the revival.

C. H. Mason and the Church of God in Christ

Charles H. Mason and the Church of God in Christ were swept into the Pentecostal revival when Mason visited the Azusa Street Mission during the fall of 1906.
Mason spent five weeks in Los Angeles, most of the time at the Azusa Street Mission in prayer seeking for the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
One day while sitting prayerfully in the mission, someone said, “Let us sing.” Mason stood to his feet and began to sing “He Brought Me Out of the Miry Clay.” He later described what happened next.
The Spirit came upon the saints and upon me. Then I gave up for the Lord to have His way within me. So there came a wave of Glory into me and all of my being was filled with the Glory of the Lord. So, when He had gotten me straight on my feet, there came a light which enveloped my entire being above the brightness of the sun. When I opened my mouth to say Glory, a flame touched my tongue which ran down me. My language changed and no word could I speak in my own tongue. Oh! I was filled with the Glory of the Lord. My soul was then satisfied (www.cogic.org).
Mason returned home to Memphis, TN where he guided the Church of God in Christ until his death in 1961. The denomination today has over 6.5 million members and over 12 thousand congregations, with adherents in every state and over 60 nations.

A Future Assemblies of God Official Impacted at Azusa Street

Another whose life was transformed at the Azusa Street Mission was Ernest S. Williams who later served as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (1929-49). He first visited the revival in 1907 and was astounded by what he encountered.

I wish I could describe what I saw. Prayer and worship were everywhere. The altar area was filled with seekers; some were kneeling; others were prone on the floor; some were speaking in tongues. Everyone was doing something; all were seemingly lost in God. I simply stood and looked, for I had never seen anything like it (Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, 146).

Interracial Character

The Azusa Street Revival exhibited an amazing racial harmony at a time when America was racially divided by both law and custom. Frank Bartleman, who wrote an eyewitness account of the revival, said, “The color line was washed away in the blood” (Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, 147).

The original Azusa board of directors reflected this racial harmony. This board, which governed the affairs of the mission and issued ministerial credentials, consisted of seven women and five men. Five of the women were white and two were black. Of the five men, four were white and one, Pastor Seymour, was black.

Women at Azusa Street

An amazing gender inclusiveness emerged at Azusa Street at a time in America when women could not vote and were excluded by most churches from any viable roles of leadership. Women were a majority on the governing board and a number of powerful women evangelists, pastors, and missionaries went forth from the revival.
The January 1908 issue of the Apostolic Faith gave a clear statement of Seymour’s view of women in the church.
Before Pentecost, the woman could only go into the “court of the women” and not into the inner court. But when our Lord poured out Pentecost, He brought all those faithful women with the other disciples into the upper room and God baptized them all in the same room and made no difference. All the women received the anointed oil of the Holy Ghost and were able to preach the same as men. They both were co-workers in Eden and both fell into sin; so they both have to come together and work in the Gospel.

The Prophetic Impact of Azusa

The revival on Azusa Street continued unabated for about three years (1906-1909). During this period, it was the key instrument in dispersing Pentecostalism around the world. This occurred not only as a result of the many visitors who came from around the world, but by the numerous missionaries, evangelists, and church planters who went out from Azusa.

Seymour continued as pastor of the Azusa Street Mission until his death on September 28, 1922 in Los Angeles. The mission was torn down in 1931 and the property was made into a parking lot.
Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival had, nonetheless, carved for themselves a prominent place in Christian and world history. This was highlighted in 1999 when the prestigious Religion Newswriters Association included the revival in its list of the “top ten” religious stories of the past millennia.
This list included such momentous events as the medieval Crusades, the 16th century Protestant Reformation, and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455. Their reason for including the Azusa Street Revival on this illustrious list was that it gave birth to the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, “Now Christianity’s fastest growing branch” (The Dallas Morning News, Saturday, December 4, 1999, 4G).
An Amazing Legacy
Indeed, out of this revival in an old, dilapidated building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles, has emerged a movement of Spiritual renewal that has impacted all of Christendom. On the international scene, it is estimated that the world-wide constituency of the Pentecostal- Charimatic movement now numbers over 700 million and is growing at the rate of 9 million per year.
What an amazing legacy for an uneducated son of former slaves! William Seymour is a prime example of what God can do through humble hearts that are completely yielded to Him.

Dr. Eddie Hyatt is a church historian and ordained minister who specializes in spiritual awakening in church history. This article is derived from his book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, published by Charisma House and used as a text book in Bible schools and seminaries around the world. His latest book, The Great Prayer Awakening of 1857-58, is availble from Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. Learn more of his ministry and vision for another Great Awakening at www.eddiehyatt.com.