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Born into slavery in 1760, Richard Allen bought his freedom at age 17 and went on to found the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1816.
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Minister, educator and writer Richard Allen was born into slavery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1760. He converted to Methodism at age 17, and bought his freedom in 1783. In 1816, he founded the first national black church in the United States,
Minister, educator and writer Richard Allen was born into slavery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1760. Known as "Negro Richard," he and his family were sold to a Delaware farmer, Stokeley Sturgis, in 1767.
Allen converted to Methodism at the age of 17, after hearing a white itinerant Methodist preacher rail against slavery. His owner, who had already sold Richard's mother and three siblings, also converted and eventually allowed Richard and his brother to purchase their freedom for $2,000 each.
After attaining his freedom, Richard took the last name "Allen" and returned to Philadelphia. There, he worked at odd jobs, as a shoemaker and as manager of a chimney-sweeping company.
Allen soon joined St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, where blacks and whites worshiped together. There, he became an assistant minister and conducted prayer meetings for blacks. Frustrated with the limitations the church placed on him and black parishioners, in 1787 Allen left the church with the intention of creating an independent Methodist church.
That same year, along with the Reverend Absalom Jones, Allen helped found the Free African Society, a non-denominational religious mutual-aid society dedicated to helping the black community. A century later, NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois called the FAS "the first wavering step of a people toward organized social life." In 1794, Allen and 10 other black Methodists founded the Bethel Church, a black Episcopal meeting, in an old blacksmith’s shop. Bethel Church became known as "Mother Bethel" because it birthed the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816). Helped by his wife, Sarah, Allen helped to hide escaped slaves. The basement of the Bethel Church was a stop on the "Underground Railroad" for blacks fleeing slavery.
In 1799, Allen became the first African American to be ordained in the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Then, in 1816, with support from representatives from other black Methodist churches, Allen founded the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became its first bishop. Today, the AME Church boasts more than 2.5 million members.
Understanding the power of an economic boycott, Allen went on to form the Free Produce Society, where members would only purchase products from non-slave labor, in 1830. With a vision of equal treatment for all, he railed against slavery, influencing civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.
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