Richard Allen was asked to move to the rear of a church. Instead, he walked out and established a new church, the denomination of which still thrives today.
We all know, or should know, how asking Rosa Parks to move to the back of the bus ignited the Civil Rights Movement. However, did you know that asking another African-American to move to the rear led to the establishment of a new church?
Richard Allen was born into slavery in Philadelphia in 1760. With his family he was sold to a plantation near Dover, Delaware, owned by a man named Stockley Sturgis. In 1777 both Allen and Sturgis were converted to Methodism by a preacher who convinced Sturgis that slave-owners would be found wanting on Judgment Day.
At this early stage of slavery in America it had not yet become illegal to teach slaves to read and write (that would come later, after a few slave revolts incited fear among whites), and so Sturgis allowed Allen to learn to read and write. In 1785 Allen bought his freedom for $2,000.
Allen's preaching had already reached the ears of Methodist leaders in America, including Francis Asbury (for whom Asbury Park, New Jersey is named). Allen began serving at St. George's Church in Philadelphia. It quickly became clear that, although white Methodists in America favored emancipation for blacks, they did not treat them as equals. Allen knew that his race needed their own place to pray.
In 1792 Allen and Absalom Jones were kneeling in prayer in the front of St. George's when they were asked to move to a "special" area in the back of the church. Incensed, both men walked out. Allen took the lead in founding, in 1816, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first independent black Protestant denomination in America. He was named the church's first bishop.
For the rest of his life Allen remained an eloquent and forceful voice for slave emancipation, giving the lie to increasing southern white claims that blacks were unequal to whites mentally and "needed" slavery in order to be cared for. He died in 1831.