While reading Estrelda Alexander’s Black Fire (see here) I was struck by two claims she makes about Pentecostalism:
(1) She says that “Within ten years of the movement’s beginning, there were virtually two Pentecostal movements–one heavily white, the other almost entirely black.” (p. 20) As an aside, I think this is very true except that it seems to ignore that there has been a large Latino brand of Pentecostalism as well. Nevertheless, this her main point is that it seems to have been a great struggle for whites to have black leaders and whites have often been much more comfortable with white leadership often leaving groups led by blacks or hindering blacks from having leadership in predominately white organizations.
What I found most outrageous was this claim regarding Pentecostal groups (which she did not support with a footnote, so I cannot fact check it): “…the Assemblies of God has remained the most racially segregated, with less than 2 percent of its constituency being African Americans.” (p. 21) Two percent?! Is there anyone in the AOG who can confirm or deny this?
(2) Alexander claims regarding the impact of Charles Parham and William Seymour that, “Though black involvement in all Pentecostal arenas rivaled and in some ways surpassed that of whites, most early Pentecostal history had been written by white scholars who have not only downplayed Seymour’s contribution in defense to Parham’s but have also ignored the contributions of many other African American Pentecostals.” (p. 21)
As I think about my own upbringing I always perceived Topeka, KS, to be a footnote to Azusa Street. Parham was seen as the match that ignited global Pentecostalism while Seymour was the gasoline that caused it to become a quick moving inferno. I don’t doubt Alexander’s claims. I am simply saying that even in the white circles with which I was most familiar Seymour is seen as something of a hero.