Documentary on Richard Allen

Via Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the D’Brickashaw Ferguson Foundation


All Star #13: Richard Allen

In 2016, Charles Barkley marked Black History Month with a daily spotlight on local African-American heroes. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing. Here’s another look.


Richard Allen

Preacher/Civil Rights Activist

Richard Allen

Preacher/Civil Rights Activist

(February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831)

An inspiration to Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., Allen was a religious man—and wholly devoted to the African American cause.

He was born into slavery and bought his own freedom at the age of 23.

After hearing a Methodist preacher speak out against slavery, Allen became a Methodist himself.

In 1794, he and 10 others founded the Bethel Church, a black Methodist church that stood on a plot of land, in what is now on the edge of Society Hill, that Allen purchased with his meager earnings as a chimney sweep and shoemaker.

Allen and his wife used the church for prayer, but also as a stop along the Underground Railroad for hiding runaway slaves.

W.E.B. Dubois called Mother Bethel, “By long odds the vastest and most remarkable product of American Negro civilization.”

It became more vast and remarkable once it turned into a subsidiary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.)—the first national black church in the United States.

Allen was an early face of the civil-rights movement, and Richard Newman went so far as to call Allen “[The] Black Founding Father.”


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  • In 1816, he founded the first national black church in the United States, A.M.E.
  • Helped found the Free African Society, a religious aid society dedicated to helping the black community
  • In 1830, he formed the Free Produce Society, a membership organization that would only purchase food from non-slave labor.



William Lloyd Garrison said of Allen, “[he was] one of the purest friends and patriots that ever exerted his energies in favor of civil and religious liberty. His noble deeds will remain cherished in the memory of mankind as imperishable monuments of eternal glory.”

Home page image: © 2002 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Ras Malik. Photo by Jack Ramsdale


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