Civil and Political Rights

What was America’s first-known African-American organization?

Established as a mutual aid society on April 12, 1787, in Philadelphia, the Free African Society is generally regarded as the first African-American organization of note in this country because it quickly became the nucleus for two black churches. (The African Union Society of Newport, Rhode Island, was formed in 1780. In Philadelphia, the Female Benevolent Society of Saint Thomas’s Episcopal Church was formed in 1793, and the male African Friendly Society of Saint Thomas in 1795.) The Free African Society was founded by religious leaders Richard Allen (1760–1831) and Absalom Jones (1746–1818). It became an important organization that addressed political consciousness and welfare for blacks nationwide. The society combined economic and medical aid for poor blacks and supported abolition of the enslaved blacks in the South. On October 12, 1794, the original Free African Society building in Philadelphia was dedicated as Saint Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, the first black Protestant Episcopal church, with Jones as its unofficial leader.


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