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Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers

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

Brings to life the inspiring story of one of America's Black Founding Fathers, featured in the forthcoming documentary The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song

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.

Born a slave in colonial Philadelphia, Allen secured his freedom during the American Revolution, and became one of the nation’s 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.

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 slave-holding 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.

ISBN-13: 9780814758571

Media Type: Paperback(New Edition)

Publisher: New York University Press

Publication Date: 10-01-2009

Pages: 359

Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Richard Newman is Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He is the author of The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic and co-editor of the series, Race in the Atlantic World, 1700–1900.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The subject of Allen's broader importance is what Richard S. Newman tries to capture in this superb new biography of America's first black elected and consecrated bishop." "Scholars and students, already familiar with Allen, will know him even better after reading the Newman biography."-Church History,

"Richard S. Newman... convincingly places Richard Allen (1760-1831) at the forefront of agitators and advocates of racial equality and social justice... Newman's current volume emerges as an indispensable read for church historians and scholars of the African American religious experience... This volume will doubtlessly stand as the definitive work on Richard Allen for many years to come."-SCJ,

“Few Americans know the extraordinary story of Richard Allen, who rose from slavery in colonial America to become a prosperous entrepreneur and inspirational preacher in the early republic. In this bold biography, Newman rescues Allen from obscurity to achieve a larger goal: to recognize African Americans as active makers of the American republic. The book's title is provocative, since few people think of blacks as 'founding fathers,' but instead as passive victims in an era dominated by their owners: Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton. ‘Above all else,’ Newman explains, 'this book poses a simple question: what happens if we put Richard Allen into the hallowed American founding generation?' The question turns out to have many consequences, for including blacks offers a fuller and truer picture of our origins as a nation—and of our potential as a republic.”
-The New Republic


“Newman sees Richard Allen as a black founding father, engaged in developing a nation within a nation, joining blacks to one another in separate institutions within the new republic. It has been a continuing challenge in which charismatic preachers have had a central role.”
-The New York Review of Books


&8221;In this elegant and insightful biography, historian Newman (The Transformation of American Abolitionism) offers a vivid portrait of Bishop Richard Allen. . . . 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.&8221;
-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: A Black Founder’s Many Worlds
1 “For Zion’s Sake . . . I Will Not Rest”
2 Gospel Labors
3 The Year of the Fever, Part 1: A (Deceptively) Simple Narrative of the Black People
4 The Year of the Fever, Part 2: Allen’s Antislavery Appeal
5 “We Participate in Common”: Allen’s Role as a Black Mediator
6 A Liberating Theology: Establishing the AME Church
7 Stay or Go? Allen and African Colonization
8 Allen Challenged: Shadow Politics and Community Conflict in the 1820s
9 A Black Founder’s Expanding Visions
10 Last Rights
Conclusion: Richard Allen and the Soul of Black Reform
About the Author