African Methodist Episcopal Church

A Brief History of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church

Reverend Dennis C. Dickerson, Ph.D. | Retired Historiographer/Editor, A.M.E. CHURCH REVIEW

The African Methodist Episcopal Church is among the oldest Protestant denominations established on American soil. Though founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the A.M.E. Church, in existence for over two centuries, is a global religious body. Throughout the Americas, Africa, Europe, and India are congregations where the legacy of Richard Allen (1760-1831), the founder is revered and hallowed among 2.5 million members in over 6,000 congregations in 20 Episcopal Districts.

Allen, born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760 and sold, with his family, to a farm near Dover, Delaware, was converted in 1777 and immediately rejoiced in his freedom from sin and sought manumission from slavery. His recently converted slave-owner, Stokeley Sturgis, allowed him to purchase his freedom. Now a free man in 1783 Allen became an itinerant Methodist preacher until he re-settled in Philadelphia to preach to African Americans at St. George Church. His success in attracting increased number of blacks disturbed white church officials. They interrupted Allen’s followers while they were praying and pulled them up from their knees. They exited the church and retreated to their already established Free African Society (FAS). Allen led a minority within the FAS to build in 1794 the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and in 1816 to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church in which he was elected and consecrated as the first Bishop. His first wife, Flora Allen, another former slave who died in 1801, assisted him in laying the foundations of Bethel Church, and his second wife, Sarah Bass Allen, aided him in establishing the denomination.

African Methodism spread rapidly through the Northeast, Midwest, and briefly to Charleston, South Carolina where a local A.M.E. preacher, Denmark Vesey, planned a slave insurrection. The plot was uncovered, Vesey and his co-conspirators were hanged, and his pastor, Morris Brown, fled to Philadelphia. Allen gave him asylum and Brown became in 1828 the second Bishop in this growing religious body. Though the A.M.E. Church was banned, missionaries returned after the Civil War and the denomination expanded throughout the former Confederacy. In Haiti since 1824, African Methodism also extended to Liberia and Sierra Leone in 1891 and to South Africa in 1896.

In the 20th century the A.M.E. Church, drawing from its liberationist legacy that Richard Allen, Denmark Vesey, and others developed, became a frontline advocate of black civil rights. The landmark Brown decision of 1954 which outlawed public school segregation owed much to foundational law suits from Oliver L. Brown, a pastor in Topeka, Kansas and J. A. De Laine, a pastor in Clarendon County, South Carolina. The denomination, challenged itself on gender equality, authorized the full ordination of women at the 1960 General Conference in Los Angeles. Carrie T. Hooper, a New York City pastor, ran as the first female for the episcopacy at the 1964 General Conference in Cincinnati, and Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a Baltimore pastor, succeeded at the 2000 General Conference in Cincinnati to be elected and consecrated as the church’s first woman Bishop. Carolyn Tyler-Guidry of Los Angeles and Sarah F. Davis of Houston joined her as Bishops at the 2004 General Conference in Indianapolis.

Twenty-one active Bishops including one Ecumenical Officer lead the worldwide African Methodist Episcopal Church and there are nine General Officers who supervise administrative and programmatic departments. Several colleges, universities, seminaries, elementary and secondary schools operate under A.M.E. auspices in North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and India.

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P.O. Box 147
Little Rock, Arkansas 72203
Office Phone: 501.375.4310

Email: info@12thdistrictame.org

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