Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism

Article excerpt

A review of Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism by Estrelda Y. Alexander (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011. 406 pp., ISBN 978-0830825868) by Eric R. Jackson (jacksoner@nku.edu), Associate Professor of History, Department of History and Geography; Black Studies Program, Northern Kentucky University.

During the past fifteen years, many scholars have been focusing their analyses on the origin and nature of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements in the United States as well as worldwide. Under review here is one such study, Estrelda Y. Alexander's Black Fire: One Hundred Years of African American Pentecostalism. Raised in an urban, African American working-class community during the 1950s and 1960s, Alexander knew very little about her Christian heritage. But upon acquiring her doctorate, she decided to investigate this topic with much vigor and passion. The outcome of her venture is this powerful and path-breaking volume that provides readers with a unique perspective on the history and impact of the African American charismatic Pentecostal movement. Specifically, Alexander claims that the origins of this movement "not just for African American but for white Pentecostals as well lie within a robust African spirituality with its beliefs in a supreme being, in the sacredness of creation, in the supernatural, in rituals of life and in ancestor veneration" (p. 7). Furthermore, the author locates the inception of the movement within the African/African American religious tradition during the enslavement period that contained a variety of vernaculars such as oral traditions, music, dancing, spiritual visions, and speaking in tongue. Finally, Alexander highlights the important roles of several nineteenth-century African American Holiness ministers, played in this religious crusade, such as William Christian, Charles Price, and William J. Seymour and also seeks to illustrate how African American Pentecostalism has become a major force in the development of charismatic Christianity in America as well as internationally.

In the first three chapters, Alexander highlights the origin of the Pentecostal movement, and its link to African spirituality, the legacy of the nineteenth century African American Holiness Movement, and the impact of William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival on the entire Pentecostal crusade nationwide. …