Richard Allen was the principal founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born on February 14, 1760, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Born a slave, Allen purchased his freedom from his master in 1785.
After gaining his freedom, Allen supported himself with various jobs and served as an itinerant minister. He moved to Philadelphia in 1794 and established Mother Bethel, an African American Church. In 1816, Allen created the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen and his followers broke away from the Methodist Church because they believed that white Methodists were interfering with the practice of their religion. As early as the 1780s, Allen hoped to form a congregation open exclusively to African Americans. Many whites feared African American members could gain power in the Methodist Church and alter traditional beliefs and religious practices. Many white Methodists also were prejudiced against African Americans. They demanded that African Americans sit either in the back of the churches or in balconies. They also made a rule that only permitted African American members to take communion after the whites had finished. The unwillingness of the Methodist Church to listen to the needs and desires of the African American church members prompted African Americans to separate from the Methodist Church.
Although the African Methodist Episcopal Church broke with the Methodist Church, its members decided to affiliate their new church with both the Methodist and the Episcopal Churches. The main reason for this was a deep resentment of the Methodists among some of Allen's congregation. Other members pointed out that the Methodist Church officially condemned slavery, even if many of the white members were prejudiced.
Allen served as the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He died on March 26, 1831.
Allen's African Methodist Episcopal Church had a major impact on Ohio. During the 1800s, many African Americans in Ohio found comfort and religious fulfillment in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Most of the churches of this denomination were built in Ohio's major cities. White Methodists established Wilberforce College in Ohio in 1856. During the 1860s, the African Methodist Episcopal Church acquired Wilberforce and opened its doors to African Americans. It was the first institution of higher education in the United States established specifically for African American students.