BLACK PEOPLE, both free and enslaved, relied on their faith to hold onto their humanity under the most inhumane circumstances.
In 1787, the Rev. Richard Allen and other Black congregants walked out of services at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to protest its segregated congregations. Allen, an abolitionist who was born enslaved, had moved to Philadelphia after purchasing his freedom.
There he joined St.George’s, where he initially preached to integrated congregations. It quickly became clear that integration went only so far. He was directed to preach a separate service designated for Black parishioners. Dismayed that Black people were still treated as inferiors in what was meant to be a holy space, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination and started the Mother Bethel A.M.E..Church.
For communities of free people of color, churches like Allen’s were places not only of sanctuary but also of education, organizing and civic engagement, providing resources to navigate a racists society in a slave nation. Allen and his successors connected the community, pursued social justice and helped guide Black congregants as they transitioned to freedom.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew rapidly; today at least 7,000 A.M.E. congregations exist around the world including Allen’s original church