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Biographies Unit Biographies

Richard Allen 1760–1831
Founder of the First Independent African American Church

In the 1790s, when Philadelphia was the nation's capital, Richard Allen was one of that city's well-known preachers. Allen had once been enslaved but had bought his freedom as a young man. He was a leader of Philadelphia's free African American community.

Allen was troubled by the fact that few African Americans went to church. Back then, African Americans attended churches led by white ministers where they were separated from white worshippers. Allen believed his “African brethren” needed their own place of worship. In 1794, he took over an abandoned blacksmith's shop and turned it into a church. It was called Bethel Church. Years later, Bethel Church joined four other African American churches to form the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The AME Church, as it is known, became the nation's first independent African American church. Under Allen's leadership, it attracted many members and became an important center of African American life.

Comprehension Check

Why did Richard Allen start a church for African Americans?

Critical Thinking

Why do you think it was important for African Americans to have their own church?