Who Was Richard Allen?
Minister, educator and writer Richard Allen was born into slavery. He later converted to Methodism and bought his freedom. Fed up with the treatment of African American parishioners at the St. George Episcopal congregation, he eventually founded the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was also an activist and abolitionist whose ardent writings would inspire future visionaries.
Minister, educator and writer Allen was born into slavery presumably in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1760. (As with other details surrounding Allen's life, there have been some questions as to the place of his birth, with certain sources asserting that he was born in Delaware.) Known as "Negro Richard," he and his family were sold by Benjamin Chew to a Delaware farmer, Stokeley Sturgis, sometime around 1768.
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 Allen's mother and three of his siblings, also converted and eventually allowed Allen to purchase his freedom for $2,000, which he was able to do by 1783. The paper detailing Allen's freedom would in fact become the first manumission document to be held as a public file, having been donated to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
After attaining his freedom, he took the last name "Allen" and returned to Philadelphia.
Founding the African Methodist Episcopal Church
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 later civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.
Death and Legacy
Allen died at his home on Spruce Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 26, 1831. He was laid to rest under Bethel Church.
In 2008, Richard Newman and NYU Press published an acclaimed biography of Allen — Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church and the Black Founding Fathers.
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