Black History Month in North America is an opportunity to expand our understanding of an often “whitewashed” past. Specifically, BHM helps us celebrate and acknowledge how African Americans have been a crucial and overlooked part of the development of America’s political, social, and economic systems. This focus reminds us that this development came at a high cost to the African American community.
In an interview with The Banner Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige (Executive Associate to the President for Diversity & Inclusion at Calvin University) shares that: “The U.S.A.—a place where many Africans were brought as slaves, kept in bondage, and denied basic civil rights. It’s a place where, still today, experiences of racism are pervasive. Nevertheless, the contributions of Africans/black Americans to this country have been numerous. These accomplishments should be celebrated and given proper credit—as should be the case for all people groups who have contributed to the building of this nation.“
In the interview, Dr. Loyd-Paige also notes that: “… it (Celebrating Black History Month) is a matter of truth-telling. The U.S. history that is often taught in our schools is very white. The history of black people in America rarely goes beyond slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. Black History Month is an invitation and an opportunity to dig deeper into U.S. history and the accomplishments of African Americans.”
This year to celebrate Black History Month I am reading and sharing story on some of the amazing Black men and women I am learning about. My plan is to Highlight someone each week through the month of February. This week’s spotlight is Richard Allen. The following information is from: https://theundefeated.com
Because God doesn’t segregate, but humans do…
PREACHER. ABOLITIONIST. FORMER SLAVE. EDUCATOR.b. 1760 – 1831
A Feb. 20, 1898, sermon by the Rev. John Palmer on Richard Allen’s place in African-American history reads:
“If true greatness consists in that self-sacrificing heroism and devotion which makes a man insensible and indifferent to his own personal welfare, interest, comfort and advantages; and to deny himself of all for the sake of others, and for the elevation and advancement of others, without a single promise of reward — we say, if these constitute greatness, then Richard Allen, the first bishop of the AME church, was great.”
Allen is considered the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in America. That church, now with a membership of more than 2.5 million people and 6,000 churches, was the country’s first independent black denomination.
Former slave. Born into servitude in 1760 in Philadelphia, “Negro Richard” earned $2,000 to buy his freedom and that of his brother in 1780. Richard Allen, the name he chose as a freedman, came of age during the American Revolution, just as the antislavery movement and denominational Christianity were gaining prominence.
Allen discovered religion after hearing a Methodist preacher at a secret gathering of slaves in Delaware. In his biography, The Life Experiences and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, he wrote, “I was awakened and brought to see myself, poor, wretched and undone, and without the mercy of God must be lost.”
Preacher. Allen, his wife Sarah and others opened the doors of Bethel AME Church on July 29, 1794, on the site of a converted blacksmith shop on Sixth Street in Philadelphia. Allen was ordained the church’s pastor. Driven to establish “Mother Bethel” by white Methodists’ segregation of blacks, Allen brought other black Methodist congregations in Philadelphia together in 1816. They elected Allen bishop, a position he held until his death in 1831.
Abolitionist. Allen focused his sermons on the freedom of slaves, cessation of colonization, education of youths and temperance. He created denominational groups to care for and educate the poor. His home and Bethel AME were stops on the Underground Railroad.
Educator. Recognizing that former slaves and freedmen needed education, he opened a day school for black children and a night school for adults. Allen published articles in Freedom’s Journal attacking slavery, colonialism and organizations that advocated the migration of blacks back to Africa. He authored three pamphlets about escaping the bonds of slavery, including An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves and Approve the Practice.
Allen’s legacy lives on today in the AME church’s work, whose motto is “God Our Father, Christ Our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit Our Comforter, Humankind Our Family.” – John X. Miller
Feature image and Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige quotes are from: https://www.thebanner.org/features/2020/01/why-christians-should-observe-black-history-month
Richard Allen story from: https://theundefeated.com/features/the-undefeated-44-most-influential-black-americans-in-history/#richard-allen
It’s good to be reminded of the faithful men and women before us who laid so much of the foundation for what would become our faith traditions in America, and it’s especially important to highlight those who are often overlooked.
One lesson we can learn is that there is a wide circle of people included in the label “Christian,” and while we should of course hold high views of Christ and His nature, Christ himself calls many to his flock from kingdoms and tribes and tongues and nations that might not be familiar to us. And we can also learn that we are sometimes the listener and sometimes the leader; when Christ’s family speaks, we are blessed if we start off with listening rather than resisting, by accommodating and walking along rather than going to the front to be the leader.
Richard Allen had many difficult experiences to work through in his life as a captured Black African living in a Europeanized culture, but Christ was his healer and leader and redeemer, and Allen’s life shows how Christ can transform the life of anyone who would follow him. In spite of the lack of vision from the people in the church that brought him to faith, he was able to find God’s way in that wilderness to establish a Black-led, Black-organized, and Black-themed church that is fully faithful to the word and work of Jesus but that does not exist as a subsidiary of another church or movement.
Thanks for the reply Steve. I like and would emphasize your thoughts of: “And we can also learn that we are sometimes the listener and sometimes the leader; when Christ’s family speaks, we are blessed if we start off with listening rather than resisting, by accommodating and walking along rather than going to the front to be the leader.”