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Bishop Richard Allen

Short documentary on Bishop Richard Allen, played by actors

​Bishop Richard Allen   1760-1831









Richard Allen was one of the greatest black religious leaders and organizers in American history. Born a slave, he worked very hard to purchase his freedom.  By age of 18, he had become a free man.

Allen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After being sold to a new master, he grew up in Dover, Delaware.  With his master's permission, he taught himself to read and write.  His master also allowed him to work as a day laborer, brick maker and wagon driver.  When Allen had earned enough money, he bought his freedom from slavery.

Richard Allen was a wagon driver and traveling preacher in the Revolutionary war.  After the War, in 1786, he went back to Philadelphia to be a Methodist minister.  Allen held prayer meetings for blacks and encouraged them to attend St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church.  

Black attendance at the St. George church grew and grew.  One Sunday in November 1786, Allen and Reverend Absalom Jones went to their usual seats at the church.  The white elders of St. George's told them to move to the gallery.  Because he was praying, Reverend Jones did not move right away.  He requested that he be allowed to finish his prayer.  The elder would not wait and pulled him out of his seat.

Allen protested this treatment by immediately leading all the blacks out of the church.  This was the first mass demonstration led by blacks in America.  Blacks in other northern cities, hearing of the protest, also began walking out of places where blacks and whites were segregated.

In 1787, Allen and Jones started the Free African Society.  The society featured a church, insurance company, political organization, and a group to aid other blacks.  In 1794, the Society built its own church, the Bethel Church.  Five years later, Richard Allen was ordained a minister.  In 1816, he reorganized the Bethel Church and it became the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.  Allen was then appointed the bishop of the AME church, making him the first black bishop in America.

Allen was a strong supporter of the anti-slavery movement.  As president of the first Negro Convention, he wrote articles for the first black newspaper, Freedom's Journal.  Many of these articles were aimed against the American Colonization Society.  The American Colonization Society thought that it would be best for blacks to leave America and start there own colonies in Africa.  

Allen believed that the proposals of the American Colonization Society were based on anti-black feelings and were not in the best interest of blacks.  So, he started a society of free Blacks to educate black children.

Bishop Allen died on March 26, 1831.  During his life, he had worked hard to bring an end to slavery.  The African Methodist Episcopal Church that he founded still exists today.  It remains the oldest and largest Black Organization in America.


This is only a summary of Bishop Richard Allen's life. 


Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage - Historic Black Abolitionists