The U.S. Postal Service dedicated the Richard Allen stamp on February 2, bringing to a close a 12-year campaign to recognize the contributions of a man who helped shape American history.
Known by many as the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Allen was also a successful businessman, civic leader and social activist as well as a preacher. This year is the 200th anniversary of his founding of the AME Church.
“Bishop Allen was way ahead of his time. His life is a story of perseverance, commitment and concern for all people. That’s a message that is as timely today as it was when he was alive,” said Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, director of the AME Church Social Action Commission and a member of Ward AME Church in Los Angeles.
She began working on the Bishop Allen stamp campaign in 2004 under the direction of retired Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, who was the chair at that time and made it an official project of the Commission. With the support of the denomination’s Council of Bishops, the group embarked on the journey to make the stamp a reality.
At the dedication ceremony, Dupont-Walker was in the crowd of thousands who gathered at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia to celebrate Allen, whose stamp is the 39th in the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.
“It was probably the most joyous occasion I’ve ever been to in my life. There was standing-room only in the balcony, main floor and basement,” recalled Dupont-Walker.
Bishop Allen’s life and legacy evokes joy, sadness, courage and determination. Born a slave in 1760, Allen bought his freedom while in his 20s. He was ordained as a minister in 1784 and later united with St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. His association with St. George’s ended after Black worshippers were pulled from their knees while praying.
In 1787, Allen and fellow preacher, Absalom Jones, established the Free African Society to assist freed slaves and migrants to the city. Dupont-Walker explained, “The Free African Society was teaching people how to develop a skill and survive now that you’re no longer in slavery.”
In addition, Allen is noted for rallying Black Philadelphians to serve as aid workers during a yellow fever epidemic in 1793 and preparing the Black community to defend the city during the War of 1812.
Eager to establish an independent African American church, Allen purchased an old blacksmith’s shop and moved it to land he owned at Sixth and Lombard Streets. Bethel Church was dedicated in 1794 and soon attracted hundreds of members.
In 1816, Allen summoned other Black Methodist leaders to Philadelphia, where together they founded the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, electing and consecrating Allen as its first bishop. Today, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church stands on the site where Allen converted that old blacksmith’s shop more than two centuries ago.
“Even when he was in his 80s, he still had not given up stating the case for freedom for people of African descent before anyone thought it was worthy…or even thinkable. He convened the first Colored Convention 50 years before the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Dupont-Walker.
“Frederick Douglass and later Martin Luther King Jr., both said that they were influenced by how Bishop Allen seemed to channel a higher power to work through him to shepherd blacks through some of this country’s darkest days. I hope this stamp will inspire every American to learn more about this uplifting man,” said Postal Service Vice President, Area Operations — Eastern Area, Joshua D. Colin, who dedicated the stamp.
The Richard Allen Forever stamp is available online at usps.com/stamps, by calling (800) 782-6724, and at post offices nationwide.
“The Postal Service printed more stamps than the normal run. There were 40 million printed and we want them to do reprints sooner than later. People should go out and buy, buy, buy,” added Dupont-Walker.