This evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Newman, Professor of History at the Rochester Institute of Technology about his very important biography FREEDOM’S PROPHET: BISHOP RICHARD ALLEN, THE AME CHURCH, AND THE BLACK FOUNDING FATHERS. You can hear our interview in the embedded MP3 player below. This book has special significance to me because as a soon-to-be official member of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I am honored to be part of an institution by a founding father like Richard Allen who took Black self-determination so seriously. He really saw the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and rightfully divorced it from racism in the American context. In an important way. The Gospel of Jesus Christ for Richard Allen is not and should not be influenced or adulterated by American white racism. Newman’s discussion of how Richard Allen fought very hard to keep his original church out of the grip of white racism is remarkable to me; a brilliant testament to the power of God and the power of the Gospel, and what the Gospel can do. I was intrigued to learn about Richard Allen’s Pan African beliefs, namely his support of Paul Cuffee and his support Black emigration to Haiti. I think fondly of a February 28th, 2011 sermon by Reverend Mark Kelly Tyler where he talked about how our Black founding fathers and mothers (like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper) planted seeds to trees that they would not see the fruit of. This is true for Richard Allen. He fought very hard to see the abolition of slavery come to fruition. While he did not see it in his lifetime, however, he did plant the seeds necessary for abolition happening thirty to forty years after his transition in 1831. Perhaps one of the most important sentences Newman writes in this biography, which I read in its entirety, is WOULD INTERRACIAL ACTIVISM EVER LEAD TO BLACK EQUALITY, OR WAS BLACK AUTONOMY AN END IN AND OF ITSELF? I think Newman in his biography believed that Allen on some level believed that interracial activism would lead to Black equality, as Newman’s research on Allen’s work with the Pennsylvania Abolition Society shows. However Newman’s writing of Allen’s support for African American emigration to Haiti and Canada also shows how he still believed that Black autonomy an end in and of itself. We see Richard Allen in all his complexity and power. Thank you, Richard Newman. -RF.
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