A frail Charles Harrison Mason lay coughing in an Arkansas swamp shack, hot and dying from tuberculosis. His parents, who were former slaves, stood by helplessly as the late summer air suffocated their 14-year-old son. Then on Sunday, September 5, 1880, the glory of God appeared. Mason sensed the Lord's presence. Suddenly, "[Charles] got out of bed and walked outside all by himself," recalls his wife, Elisa Mason, in the book "The Man: Charles Harrison Mason." "There, under the morning skies, he prayed and praised God for his healing. During these moments [Charles] renewed his commitment to God." And American religion would never be the same again.

This was the first of many supernatural experiences Charles Mason had during a life that some say rivals the lives of Christian heroes like John Wesley in its range of piety, social reform, mysticism, and evangelistic scope. "I see him as a part of the mainstream tradition in Western spirituality," says Robert Franklin, director of black church studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Today, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the Pentecostal denomination that Mason founded in 1897 (it didn't assume its Pentecostal leanings, or its final name, until 1907), sits notably in the middle of the American Christian mainstream. President Bill Clinton has personally traveled to COGIC's November convocation in Memphis to nurture their political friendship. And in 1994, a delegation of Pentecostal leaders from several white denominations traveled to Memphis to repent for excluding COGIC and other black Christians from their Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, which they formally disbanded, creating the new cross-racial Pentecostal Churches of North America and placing COGIC Brooklyn Bishop ...

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