Black Preachers and Religious Leaders

Why was religious leader Richard Allen important?

The African American Episcopal Church grew in response to the denial of full rights for and disrespectful treatment of black people and their right to worship as they pleased. Richard Allen (1760–1831) and Absalom Jones (1746–1818) left St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, a white congregation in Philadelphia, and formed the Free African Society. Allen organized Philadelphia’s Bethel African American Church on July 17, 1794, believing the Methodist practices were more compatible with black people. Today the church is called Mother Bethel Church and is the first black Methodist church in America. At a general convention in Philadelphia on April 9, 1816, ministers from several states met and officially formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black denomination in America. At the convention, Allen was elected the first black bishop. Under his leadership, the denomination, which was concerned with equality of access and treatment, quickly expanded geographically. The church was an advocate of equal rights and treatment for all. Allen sanctioned the inclusion of women in the ministry and authorized Jarena Lee to be an exhorter in the church. The church served as a forum for abolitionists and antilynching, allowing individuals to use its pulpits to address the issues. It has continued its mission work, educational opportunities, and political involvement in the fight for equality.


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