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PHOTO ESSAY

Black Churches in America

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Richard Allen

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource, N.Y.

Born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760, as a young man Richard Allen experienced a spiritual awakening that led him to convert to Methodism and begin preaching to both blacks and whites in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Feeling a call to minister to "his African brethren," in 1786 he organized a prayer society of forty two members with the help of his colleagues Absalom Jones, William White, and Dorus Ginnings. However, after Allen and his companions were forcibly removed from St. George's Parish after unknowingly sitting in a white-only gallery, Allen went his own way and in 1794 established Bethel Church in Philadelphia, the first independent black church in North America. Allen's decision to remain a Methodist while providing an opportunity for blacks to worship freely led to the creation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, of which Allen became the first bishop in 1816. He is shown here in a lithograph by Peter S. Duval, c. 1840, from a portrait by an unknown artist.

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