Excerpts from an article on cbn.com
From his young years, Richard Allen knew the humiliating and dehumanizing pain of being a slave. Born in 1760, his entire family was sold from his first master to another. And when that second master fell on financial hard-times, he divided the family by selling Richard’s mother and three of his siblings to another plantation.
Then the teenager known as “Negro Richard” went on in toil and drudgery with just one of his brothers and sisters still with him. That’s when he met the Lord Jesus Christ when listening to the preaching of an abolitionist pastor. He and his brother decided their best Christian witness would be to serve their master all the more and with excellence.
Richard then got his slave master to listen to that preacher too, and his master also came to know the Lord. One of his Christian deeds was to offer Richard his freedom within five years if Richard could pay for that freedom. Throwing himself into odd jobs for cash, Richard managed to buy his way out of slavery in just one and a half years.
He educated himself and became an itinerant preacher in the mid-Atlantic states, changing his name from Negro Richard to Richard Allen. He thought soul-saving would now be the major mission of his life. But he also frequently advocated for an end to the enslavement of the colonies’ 700,000 black people, even as America was fighting for its liberty from Britain.
The popular pastor had earlier purchased land in 1787 with the help of George Washington and Declaration of Independence signer Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Allen eventually bought a blacksmith’s shop, and in 1794 had it dragged by horses to this property, which has become the piece of land continually in the possession of African Americans longer than any other real estate in the US. He turned that blacksmith shop into a church, meant to be for blacks only so they wouldn’t have to deal with the degrading prejudice of whites and being pushed around by them in the holy space of a church.
But white Methodist leadership in Philadelphia fought back and demanded control over aspects of Allen’s church. He finally took them to court and what’s come to be known as Old Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church won its independence.
Those weren’t Allen’s only firsts. He was the first black activist invited into a US president’s home. He was the first African American to write a copyrighted pamphlet; the first black to write a eulogy for George Washington (and the only person at that time to write of Washington emancipating slaves).
“If you love the God of love,” he wrote in 1794, “clear your hands from slaves, burden not your children or country with them.”
Frederick Douglass went so far as to say that what Allen preached about freedom and equality for his fellow African Americans formed “a new Declaration of Independence.”