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Freedom's Prophet

Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers

Richard Newman

Publication Year: 2008

An Interview with the Author on the History News Network

A Founding Father with a Vision of Equality: Richard Newman's op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Author Spotlight in The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"Gold" Winner of the 2008 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Biography Category

Freedom's Prophet is a long-overdue biography of Richard Allen, founder of the first major African-American church and the leading black activist of the early American republic. A tireless minister, abolitionist, and reformer, Allen inaugurated some of the most important institutions in African-American history and influenced nearly every black leader of the nineteenth century, from Douglass to Du Bois.

Allen (1760–1831) was born a slave in colonial Philadelphia, secured his freedom during the American Revolution, and became one of the nations leading black activists before the Civil War. Among his many achievements, Allen helped form the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, co-authored the first copyrighted pamphlet by an African American writer, published the first African American eulogy of George Washington, and convened the first national convention of black reformers. In a time when most black men and women were categorized as slave property, Allen was championed as a black hero. As Richard S. Newman writes, Allen must be considered one of America's black Founding Fathers.

In this thoroughly engaging and beautifully written book, Newman describes Allen's continually evolving life and thought, setting both in the context of his times. From Allen's early antislavery struggles and belief in interracial harmony to his later reflections on black democracy and black emigration, Newman traces Allen's impact on American reform and reformers, on racial attitudes during the years of the early republic, and on the black struggle for justice in the age of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. Whether serving as Americas first black bishop, challenging slaveholding statesmen in a nation devoted to liberty, or visiting the President's House (the first black activist to do so), this important book makes it clear that Allen belongs in the pantheon of Americas great founding figures. Freedom's Prophet reintroduces Allen to today's readers and restores him to his rightful place in our nation's history.

Published by: NYU Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiii

“Brave!” “Ingenious!” “Tactical!” “Brilliant!” High school students were shouting out words that best described Richard Allen’s 1799 eulogy of George Washington. I had asked them to pick just one word to characterize Allen’s speech, hoping that this little task would create the beginnings ...

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Introduction: A Black Founder’s Many Worlds

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pp. 1-26

If you go to Philadelphia today and stop at the corner of Sixth and Lombard streets, you stand on hallowed ground. Here one of early America’s leading reformers built an internationally famous church, wrote pamphlets of protest that served as models for generations to come, and championed ...

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“For Zion’s Sake . . . I Will Not Rest”

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pp. 27-52

As the new year opened, a comet streaked across the Philadelphia sky. While scientific observers methodically plotted its “very swift” movement, commoners wondered what omen this cosmic event heralded. A few weeks later, on February 14, 1760, at two o’clock in the morning, an enslaved child ...

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Gospel Labors

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pp. 53-77

When Richard Allen journeyed to his boyhood home of Philadelphia in 1786, he had just turned twenty-six. Since his manumission, he had traveled to a half-dozen states in the new American nation and worked at well over half a dozen different jobs too. Stability would now become Allen’s primary concern. ...

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The Year of the Fever, Part 1: A (Deceptively) Simple Narrative of the Black People

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pp. 78-104

In 1794, Richard Allen published his first pamphlet. A relatively short work, the document had a long and (for the time) standard title: “A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People during the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia, in the Year 1793; and a Refutation of Some Censures Thrown upon ...

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The Year of the Fever, Part 2: Allen’s Antislavery Appeal

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pp. 105-127

With his coauthorship of the yellow-fever pamphlet, Richard Allen entered national and international reform circles. Confirmation came from Allen’s nemesis, Mathew Carey, who found himself in the surprising position of having to reply to “Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two free Africans” whose ...

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“We Participate in Common”: Allen’s Role as a Black Mediator

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pp. 128-157

After the turmoil of the previous few years, Richard Allen deserved a break. His walkout from St. George’s had thrust him into a nasty confrontation with white clerics over black independence, and his yellow-fever work had thrust him into a nasty confrontation with racial stereotypes. ...

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A Liberating Theology: Establishing the AME Church

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pp. 158-182

In October 1808, as the American slave-trading ban took effect, Richard Allen purchased a parcel of country property. Allen’s rural home was in Darby, Pennsylvania, probably in a locale known as “Calcoon Hook,” so named for the bend of a nearby creek. Located less than a dozen miles from Philadelphia, ...

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Stay or Go? Allen and African Colonization

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pp. 183-208

Sometime in early March 1814, Richard Allen opened a letter from Paul Cuffee, the celebrated free black merchant and ship captain. “Esteemed friend Richard Allen,” it began, “I hope by this time your [colonization] society has been all regular formed. I met with the people of color at New York. ...

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Allen Challenged: Shadow Politics and Community Conflict in the 1820s

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pp. 209-237

In the basement of Mother Bethel Church, the Richard Allen Museum displays a small but important piece of black political history: a voting machine. The polished, medium-sized wooden box once featured images of Bethel trustees—woodcuts, most likely—placed above a series of holes slightly bigger than a marble. ...

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A Black Founder’s Expanding Visions

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pp. 238-263

In August 1824, Richard Allen penned a letter unlike any he had ever written. “Sir,” the note solemnly began, “it is with the most sincere feelings of respect and gratitude that I address these lines to you. My heart is warmed with gratitude toward you for the kind and affectionate offers that you have extended to a poor ...

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Last Rights

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pp. 264-290

Richard Allen cherished the image of the journey. In both poetry and prose, he pictured his life as a great series of journeys converging at one transcendent point: eternal redemption. As a young free man of color, he had traveled hundreds of miles on the mid-Atlantic revival circuit saving souls for the Lord. ...

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Conclusion: Richard Allen and the Soul of Black Reform

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pp. 291-300

In the summer of 1853, the Pennsylvania Freemen reported a miraculous occurrence: the great Richard Allen was haunting the slave South. The abolitionist paper based its report on a Southern correspondent who worriedly watched as blacks in New Orleans founded educational groups and autonomous churches ...

Notes

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pp. 301-340

Index

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pp. 341-358

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About the Author

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pp. 359-

Richard S. Newman is Associate Professor of History at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is the author of The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic and coeditor of the series “Race in the Atlantic World, 1700–1900.” ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780814759011
E-ISBN-10: 0814759017
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814758267
Print-ISBN-10: 0814758266

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Bishops -- Biography.
  • Allen, Richard, 1760-1831.
  • Bishops -- United States -- Biography.
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church -- History.
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