The Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, the first Bishop of the A.M.E. church, is one of the many faith leaders who have contributed to Black resistance. (Courtesy photo)
The Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, the first Bishop of the A.M.E. church, is one of the many faith leaders who have contributed to Black resistance. (Courtesy photo)

As then-lay ministers at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen became fed up with the blatant disrespect and racism they experienced because of the color of their skin. On a Sunday morning, after being pulled off their knees by white church leaders, Jones, Allen and others ignored demands and walked out of the church in 1787. This led to the beginning of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“This year’s Black History Month theme is resistance, and there is no greater lasting example of resistance than what Richard Allen did in 1787,” said the Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington. “Allen’s legacy continues today through movements like Black Lives Matter.

According to historians, the Rt. Rev. Allen was the only person to write an eyewitness account of the events that transpired in Philadelphia, which were published in 1833.

“When the colored people began to get numerous in attending the church, they moved us from the seats we usually sat on and placed us around the wall, and on Sabbath morning we went to church, and the sexton stood at the door and told us to go in the gallery,” Allen wrote.

“The meeting had begun, and they were nearly done singing, and just as we got to the seats, the elder said, ‘Let us pray.’ We were not long upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head and saw one of the trustees … having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him off his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up — you must not kneel here.’”

Such stories remind Browning of the ancestors’ strength.

“We in the Black church come from a legacy of resistance,” Browning said.

From Philadelphia with Jones and Allen, to a Virginia plantation where Nat Turner, an enslaved person turned preacher, led a rebellion of free and enslaved African Americans in August 1831, literacy and the Bible were the Holy oil that fueled the resistance of African American people.

Once the civil rights movement got in full swing during the mid-20th century, faith leaders were at the helm of the fight. Most notably, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. peacefully rallied thousands at a time throughout his fight for social justice. Hundreds of faith leaders actively supported King in the fight for equality.

Today, faith leaders, such as the Rev. William Barber continue the fight in the march toward equity. Barber co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign, is president of Repairers of the Breach, and founded the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School, is celebrated as an outspoken and spiritual leader.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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