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Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers Paperback – October 1, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0814758571 ISBN-10: 0814758576

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 359 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814758576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814758571
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this elegant and insightful biography, historian Newman (The Transformation of American Abolitionism) offers a vivid portrait of Bishop Richard Allen (1760–1831), a tireless preacher committed to ending slavery and fostering equality for blacks in postrevolutionary America. Born a slave in Philadelphia, Allen converted to Methodism when he was 17 during a revival held at his master's house. After obtaining his freedom, Allen helped to establish two of the most important black-led organizations in early America: the Free African Society, a benevolent organization, and Bethel Church, the birthplace of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, one of the most powerful African-American denominations in the United States. Although Allen is best remembered for his religious leadership, his work moved far beyond these circles. According to Newman, his ability to create independent black organizations as well as initiate a published discourse among free blacks established him as one of the nation's founding leaders. Newman's beautifully written study is not only a first-rate social history of the early Republic and African-American culture and religion, it provides a detailed sketch of Allen that is sure to become the definitive biography of the leader. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Born a slave in colonial Philadelphia, Richard Allen bought his freedom and went on to become a leading black activist before the Civil War, laying the groundwork for modern black nationalist ideology, though he is best known as the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Newman offers an incredibly detailed and astute look at Allen both in the context of religion and in the broader context of American history and philosophy on equality. Allen challenged white leaders by enjoining debate about the immorality of slavery during a time when the national ideology was one of republicanism, which encompassed the notion of citizen virtue and self-sacrifice. He also practiced an expansive black leadership, championing abolition, racial uplift, and black immigration to Haiti or Africa when he suffered disappointment about the prospects for racial justice in the U.S. Newman portrays a man driven by a moral and philosophical impulse for racial justice, evolving as he faced personal, religious, and leadership challenges, as well as the broader national challenge of living up to a creed of equality at a time when the Founding Fathers fell short of those ideals. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Liebers on April 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Who was Richard Allen? Among other things, he was the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, first black author to be granted federal copyright and spiritual leader of early black America.

Richard Newman has delivered a compelling account of Allen's ascension to leadership, his symbolic representation of black religion and his personal sacrifice to the cause of justice. Through humanizing anecdote, well crafted prose and lucid analysis, this book has succeeded in its goals:

1.) The story keeps coming back to the meaning of black leadership through the lens of Richard Allen's work. "Black prophetic leadership has historically critiqued American glorification in favor of a broader vision of national salvation." (Newman, 297) With this in mind, Newman observes that Allen uses his faith, the print press, and access to power in the nations capital to achieve his goals--or more specifically God's goals. Newman takes care to avoid reducing Allen's faith to ideology. The suggestion that Allen inaugurates a tradition of abolitionism in the media is quite powerful adding layers to Allen's image as a black founding father.

2.) Allen is something of an untarnished historical figure. Newman makes it clear that many found Allen to be overbearing, and annoyingly persistent as an individual. Not to mitigate his historical importance, but to shed light on personal characteristics.

3.) Newman's treatment of the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic with respect to Richard Allen's leadership is a brilliant description of an understudied and underappreciated, but defining moment in American history.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert W. Kellemen on October 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Surprisingly, despite Richard Allen's towering achievements, no modern biography of his life and work existed before Richard Newman's current work. Newman's detailed research and captivating style fills this void admirably. As suggested by the subtitle (Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers), Newman's biography of Allen is in many ways also a biography of a race as a lived experience in the early American republic. The engaging account of the establishment of the first black church and the first black denomination are worth the proverbial price of the book.

One caveat, the title of chapter six, A Liberating Theology, should not cause readers to assume that Rev. Richard Allen preached liberation theology. As evidenced by The Doctrines and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which mimicked the ideals of Wesley's Methodist Church, Allen's theology maintained the basic doctrinal principles of conservative Methodism. Allen's liberating theology highlighted the equality of all people as image bearers, the conversion experienced based upon faith in Christ alone, the importance of progressive sanctification, and the call to outreach--doing works of service.

For a lively portrayal of one of America's great founding fathers, of any race, Freedom's Prophet is the book of choice.

Reviewer: Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brenda J. Harris on June 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I truly love this book; not because I am a member of the AME Church but because this book offers the reader a sense of pride in who they are and perhaps who they would like to become. It recognizes that Richar Allen and Absalom Jones and many others were definitely businessmen of the highest degree. They knew how to start, conduct, and maintain their own endeavors. They also knew how to work with people of all cultures and suggested to others that this is what should be done. They stood up for what was right and did not mind writing rebuttals to articles and/or statements they felt were unfair. They encouraged others to disagree in writing. This is still a good philosophy today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Along Red River of the North on November 7, 2012
Format: Paperback
I concur with the other 5-star reviews.

Richard Allen's story should inspire all Americans determined to attain free and equal rights to worship and citizenship. The history of late 18th and early 19th century America reveals the denial of these twin goals to northern free blacks. Allen was born (1760) into slavery (in the Philadelphia, Delaware region), and became a Methodist during the earliest phase of the evangelical Protestant Second Great Awakening (1780). Right at the end of the War of Independence in 1783, he was fortunate enough to be able to purchase his own manumission from slavery. But no longer being a slave did not mean he had the freedom to worship. Allen and other free blacks in Philadelphia were denied the right to worship in the white Methodist church. So, in 1787 (the same year the U.S. Constitution was drafted) they voted with their feet, walked out and started their own denomination; the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Allen challenged the dehumanization of African Americans with the theological proposition that God is God for every person. As a result, African Americans continued their organized struggles against segregation and discrimination while laying claim to being first-class Christians and first-class citizens.

Between 1815 and 1830 Allen became the de facto leader (i.e., first bishop of this new denomination) of free blacks in the North. During this era, Allen's political activism focused on protesting the deportation policies of the white political elite (e.g.
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