African Methodist Episcopal Church
Richard Allen (1760 – 1831) was a minister, educator, writer, and the founder in 1816 of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. He opened its first church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first bishop of the AME Church. Allen had started as a Methodist preacher but wanted to establish a black congregation independent of white control. The AME church is the oldest denomination among independent African-American churches.
Richard Allen was born on February 14, 1760, in Germantown, Pennsylvania into slavery. In 1777 Richard Allen bought his freedom and that of his brother.
In 1786, Allen became a preacher at St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia, but was restricted to early morning services. As he attracted more black congregants, the church vestry voted to build a segregated gallery for the use of blacks. Allen and Absalom Jones, also a Methodist preacher, resented the white congregants' forcing them to a segregated section for worship and prayer. They decided to leave St. George's to create independent worship for African Americans. This brought some opposition from the white church and the more established blacks of the community. In 1787 Allen and Jones led the black members out of St. George's Methodist Church.
They formed the Free African Society (FAS), a non-denominational mutual aid society, which assisted fugitive slaves and new migrants to the city. Over time, most of the FAS members left with Absalom Jones to form a new congregation, which opened its doors as an Episcopal parish on July 17, 1794 as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.
Allen and others wanted to continue in the Methodist practice. Allen called their congregation the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Using a converted blacksmith shop which they moved to the site on Sixth Street, they opened the doors of Bethel AME Church on July 29, 1794, and were affiliated with the larger Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1799, Allen became the first black Methodist minister, ordained by Bishop Francis Asbury, in recognition of his leadership and preaching.
In 1816 Allen united four African-American congregations of the Methodist Church. Together they founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first fully independent black denomination in the United States. On April 10, 1816, Allen was elected its first bishop.
Bishop Allen died at home on March 26, 1831.