Allen, Richard

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Allen, Richard (1760-1831). American, Clergyman.

Richard Allen was a Black abolitionist and founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal church, the first African-American denomination in the United States. He was born a slave in Philadelphia and as a child was sold to a farmer in Delaware. At seventeen, Allen underwent a conversion experience that was to shape the rest of his life.

Following conversion, Allen joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, converted his “master,” and later purchased his freedom. After the Revolution, Allen traveled throughout the East preaching. In 1786 he returned to Philadelphia to serve in St. George’s Church, and in 1787, Allen helped found the Free African Society, a service organization for Blacks.

Although St. George’s was a racially mixed congregation, it was nonetheless tainted by racial discrimination, and in a famous incident, Allen and eighteen other Blacks walked out of the church after being restricted to the gallery, and being abusively treated while kneeling in prayer. Following this break from St. George’s Methodist Church, the Free African Society built its own church, St. Thomas's African Episcopal Church, and invited Allen to become its pastor. Allen refused to leave Methodism, and he and his followers built their own church, Bethel Chapel, which was dedicated in 1794. In 1816, Bethel Chapel and other Black congregations joined to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church, with Allen as its first bishop. For the rest of his life, Allen worked to make the A.M.E. Church a unifying force among American Blacks.

Further Reading:

Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760-1840, 1973.

Robert Russ

Elon University

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