Bishop Charles H. Mason and the National Tabernacle Fire
Charles Harrison Mason was the founder of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), which from its Memphis roots grew into the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the United States, with profound theological and political ramifications for poor and working-class black Memphians. This essay traces the origins of COGIC in Memphis; it reveals how Mason’s early black Pentecostal denomination grew, gained social and political power, and earned a permanent place in Memphis’s black religious pantheon. While analyzing how the local black and white press viewed Mason, it uncovers the significance of Mason’s religious teachings, especially his thoughts about freedom of religious expression, racial inequality, integration, gender discrimination, and appreciation of black working-class culture. The essay argues that COGIC congregants regarded Mason’s unusual religious demonstrations as embodying political protests—these rituals of resistance transformed black lives, helping to strengthen and sustain blacks fighting for freedom in segregated Memphis.
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