A documentary about the life of Bishop Richard Allen, will premiere online February 13, the day before what would have been Bishop Allen’s 251st birthday. Bishop Richard Allen Apostle of Freedom was produced by Mother Bethel AME Church (www.MotherBethel.org) thanks to a generous gift from The Lomax Family Foundation (Dr. Walter Lomax, owner of LEVAS Communications which owns WURD-AM). “This is the first high quality, PBS style documentary on the life of Bishop Allen, arguably one of America’s founding fathers,” says Mother Bethel’s pastor the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, PhD. It was filmed locally by Sam Katz and “History Making Productions” (www.historymakingproductions.com). Mother Bethel is seeking sponsors for the February 13th online premiere. Potential sponsors can view a free clip of the film at: http://www.motherbethel.org/allen/index.html.
Sponsorship comes in the form of three different levels: Diamond ($1,000), Platinum ($500) and Gold ($250). Funds raised by sponsorship will go to help translate the film into different languages so that the film can be understood in all AME churches around the globe. The money will also help fund future projects. “We are currently in the planning stages of more documentaries that will tell the story of our church’s forefathers,” says Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler. “Our history is an important American story rich with accomplishments, conflict and drama.” Bishop Richard Allen Apostle of Freedom was shot with local actors, including extras who are members of both Mother Bethel AME Church (the congregation Bishop Allen started in 1794) and Historic St. George’s UMC (the church that Allen walked out of because of racial segregation).
Born as a slave to Colonial Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, owner of the Cliveden Estate in Germantown, Allen later purchased his freedom from a Delaware slave owner who bought him as a child. He went on to distinguish himself as more than just a church leader. He hauled salt for the Continental Army during the American Revolution; he acted bravely in caring for the dying and burying the dead in the Yellow Fever Outbreak of 1793; he and Absalom Jones were the holders of the first copyright by African Americans when they published their rebuttal to Matthew Carey’s account of the Yellow Fever Outbreak; he was a successful entrepreneur, claiming George Washington’s Executive Mansion on 6th and Market Streets as a customer of his chimney sweep business; he opened his doors to those fleeing slavery on what would become known as the Underground Railroad as an Abolitionist; he organized one of the first major protests by African Americans when 3,000 people gathered at Mother Bethel Church to denounce the American Colonization Society’s plan to send free Blacks to Africa; and, he had an active correspondence with the president of Haiti to the point that he sent missionaries to that nation in the 1820s to help them organize build infrastructure.
Bishop Allen is most known for his bold act of independence against the racial and religious intolerance of his time when he walked out of the segregated pews at St. George’s Methodist Church in the late 1700s. This act ultimately led to the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, which grew out of Mother Bethel and similar congregations in the northeast. This was America’s first denomination established by African Americans and Allen became the first Bishop.