The Legacy of Bishop Richard Allen and the A.M.E. Church

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the A.M.E. Church

The Legacy of Bishop Richard Allen and the A.M.E. Church by Willis Humphrey. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About the Project 

In partnership with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and First District Plaza, Mural Arts has created a mural honoring the legacy of minister and activist Richard Allen. Members of the AME Church collaborated with muralist Willis “Nomo” Humphrey to design a mural that stimulates dialogue about Richard and Sarah Allen’s importance in American history.

Richard Allen (1760 – 1831) 

Allen was born into slavery in Germantown – then a suburb, now a neighborhood – in northwest Philadelphia. From a young age he was a devout worshipper, student, and advocate. After teaching himself to read and write, he attended the local Methodist Society, where he began to evangelize at age 17. His belief and his efforts at the church convinced his owner Stokeley Sturgis, to reconsider the morality of slave ownership. Allen was granted his freedom in 1780.

By 1787, Allen was a locally-lauded parishioner the historic St. George’s church. It was there that he led one of the first documented civil rights efforts in the United States. Spawned by the frustrations of persistent injustice, this momentous event sparked the movement that led to the emergence of the African-American churches at the forefront of our religious landscape today.

Over the years, Allen and his colleague Absalom Jones’ successful evangelistic leadership in the community drew a large congregation of African-Americans to the church. Because of this shift in congregational demographics, racial tensions flared and an increasingly segregated seating policy for black worshippers compelled Allen and Jones to lead their congregation in a historic walkout.

The walkout resulted in the formation of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church is among the oldest denominations of independent African-American churches in the United States. Allen and Jones later formed the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society that assisted fugitive slaves and new migrants to the city. He went on to serve Bethel Church, ordained as the first black Methodist minister and honored for his prolific leadership and preaching. Later he founded and was elected the first bishop at the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent black denomination in the United States.

It is with this important legacy in mind that we created a landmark work of public art honoring the lasting efforts of Allen to foster spaces devoted to equality, justice, and freedom to worship. As part of Mural Arts’ African American Heritage Collection, this mural will serve as a tribute to the efforts of those who came before us, as well as a source of education and inspiration to those new to our community or wishing to know more. As Mural Arts believes in honoring those who carved the path upon which we now walk, we are excited to share this narrative and to continue to move forward as a cohesive community founded on mutual respect, understanding, and pride.

 

Sponsors 

Funding provided by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the City of Philadelphia