This week in Black Christian History: AME Founder, Notable Female Preacher, First Black Speaker Before Congress


United States Postal Service stamp commemorating Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. | (Photo: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Jarena Lee, first female AME Church preacher, born - February 11, 1783


An 1849 picture of Jarena Lee (1783-circa 1855), the first official female preacher for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. | Wikimedia Commons

This week marks the anniversary of when Jarena Lee, the first African-American woman ordained to ministry in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born.

The child of free black parents in Cape May, New Jersey, Lee was baptized in 1807 into the AME Church and given authorization to preach in 1819, at a time when churches largely opposed women preachers, black or white.

“Reverend Lee was a true itinerant evangelist,” explained the AME Church’s Social Action Commission. “She proclaimed the Gospel extensively throughout the Northeastern United States and Canada, traveling more than 2,800 by foot preaching more than 692 sermons.”

Richard Allen, founder of African Methodist Episcopal Church, born - February 14, 1760


Richard Allen (1760-1831), founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. | (Photo: Public Domain)

This week marks the anniversary of when Richard Allen, the child of slaves who grew up to found the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born.

Allen became a Methodist at age 17, partly because of the church’s official opposition to slavery. But because he still experienced racial prejudice in the religious sect, he decided to found his own denomination in 1816.

Allen helped found Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an influential historically African-American congregation.

“I do not wish to make you angry, but excite attention to consider how hateful slavery is in the sight of that God who hath destroyed kings and princes for their oppression of the poor slaves. Pharaoh and his princes with the posterity of king Saul, were destroyed by the protector and avenger of slaves,” Allen wrote in 1794.

“If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, [burden] not your children or your country with them …”

Presbyterian Pastor becomes first African-American to address Congress - February 12, 1865


Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882), an abolitionist and pastor who became the first African-American to address Congress. | Public Domain

This week marks the anniversary of when Henry Highland Garnet, a Presbyterian pastor, became the first African-American speaker to address the United States Congress.

A former slave who served as a pastor at Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, before the American Civil War began, Garnet had called for violent rebellion against slavery.

Garnet preached a sermon before the House of Representatives at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln for the commander-in-chief’s 56th birthday.

“With the assurance of God's favor in all things done in obedience to his righteous will, and guided by day and by night by the pillars of cloud and fire, let us not pause until we have reached the other and safe side of the stormy and crimson sea,” he preached.

“Favored men, and honored of God as his instruments, speedily finish the work which he has given you to do. Emancipate, enfranchise, educate, and give the blessings of the gospel to every American citizen.”

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