A Time Life pictorial in 2000 listed the 100 Most Important Events in the past one thousand years from 1000 to 2000 A.D. Number 68 on the list was the Azusa Street Revival.
In 1906 the Revival began under the leadership of Reverend William Seymour, the son of slaves, at a time when it was illegal in parts of Los Angeles for a black man to be on the street at night. Today anywhere from 500 to 700 million Pentecostal Christians trace their spiritual heritage back to a building at the corner of San Pedro and Azusa, midway between 2nd and 3rd Streets. The revival went from 1906 to 1910 and due to racism Seymour eventually died rejected and heartbroken.
In 1910, Seymour gave a prophecy. From azusastories.com – ” “In 1910 William Seymour prophesied that in 100 years there would be an outpouring of God’s Spirit and His Shekinah glory that will be greater and more far reaching than what was experienced at Azusa.”
For decades the Japanese American community of Little Tokyo has been unsure how to acknowledge what took place on what is now the red brick plaza of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC). The JACCC is the largest Asian American cultural center in America.
As the result of the efforts over the past two years of a group of young Japanese American Christian pastors representing churches throughout Greater Los Angeles working with community leaders of Little Tokyo, the decision was made to plant a grapefruit tree to honor the historic work of the Holy Spirit and William Seymour during the Azusa Street Revival.
Back in 2001, the World Pentecostal Conference held their international gathering in Los Angeles and a small young grapefruit tree was planted on the plaza. The reason is a 125 year old grapefruit tree is also on the plaza, the last remaining tree from when the area was a fruit orchard. The goal was for the young tree to grow to where the old tree could be grafted into it as part of the 100 year Azusa Street Centennial due April 2006.
Unfortunately, in 2004 hot cooking oil was poured into the soil during a street festival and the grapefruit tree was killed. Another tree was planted but now the soil was poisoned and so the tree wasn’t healthy enough in 2006 for the grafting to take place.
As these young Japanese American pastors heard this story, they decided the original plan needed to be completed and so on Saturday, December 8th, the first day of Hanukkah, a tree planting ceremony took place where a strong young grapefruit tree was planted in healthy soil with the grafting set for a later date.
Native American Louis Barragan was part of the planting ceremony and in bringing a Native perspective and blessing he said he has been given permission by Chief Anthony Morales of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians to conduct a ceremony as a representative of the Gabrielino Tongva, an indigenous Native American tribe of Greater Los Angeles. The word Azusa is a Tongva word and can be translated as healing.
The climax of the ceremony was an invitation for everyone in attendance to scoop up some soil and add it to new planted grapefruit tree. Before the public was able to do so however, and after the ceremony leadership team did so, “General Jeff” Page was introduced as a representative of Skid Row, which begins just a couple hundred yards south of this southern tip of Little Tokyo, and he threw in the next handful of soil.
General Jeff is a community activist who is the Skid Row Residential representative for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. Asked what this ceremony meant, he replied, “Skid Row and Little Tokyo share a border and both communities need to work together. A grapefruit tree planting might not be sexy to alot of people, but to our two communities this is spiritually important.”
Plans are now underway to turn a long wall along the Azusa Street alleyway into a William Seymour/Azusa Street Revival Memorial Wall similar to the Biddy Mason Memorial Wall at Spring and Third Street in the Old Bank District.
By Tom Grode
Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.