The first “pentecostals” in the modern sense appeared on the scene in 1901 in the city of Topeka, Kansas in a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and former Methodist pastor. In spite of controversy over the origins and timing of Parham’s emphasis on glossolalia, all historians agree that the movement began during the first days of 1901 just as the world entered the Twentieth Century. The first person to be baptized in the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues was Agnes Ozman, one of Parham’s Bible School students, who spoke in tongues on the very first day of the new century, January 1, 1901. According to J. Roswell Flower, the founding Secretary of the Assemblies of God, Ozman’s experience was the “touch felt round the world,” an event which ” made the Pentecostal Movement of the Twentieth Century.”
As a result of this Topeka pentecost, Parham formulated the doctrine that tongue was the “Bible evidence” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He also taught that tongue was a supernatural impartation of human languages for the purpose of world evangelization. Henceforth, he taught, missionaries need not study foreign languages since they would be able to preach in miraculous tongues all over the world. Armed with this new theology, Parham founded a church movement, which he called the “Apostolic Faith” and began a whirlwind revival tour of the American Middle West to promote his exciting new experience. It was not until 1906, however, that Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour.
The place of William Seymour as an important religious leader now seems to be assured. As early as 1972 Sidney Ahlstrom, the noted church historian from Yale University, said that Seymour was “the most influential black leader in American religious history.” Seymour, along with Charles Parham, could well be called the “co-founders” of world Pentecostalism.