Friday, October 25, 2013

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

The Definitive Biography of a Black Founding Father 
By David Liebers
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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