African Methodist Episcopal Church
Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. Allen and his followers broke away from the Methodist Church because they believed that white Methodists were interfering with the practice of their religion. As early as the 1780s, Allen hoped to form a congregation open exclusively to African Americans. Many whites feared African American members could gain power in the Methodist Church and alter traditional beliefs and religious practices. Many white Methodists also were prejudiced against African Americans. They demanded that African Americans sit either in the back of the churches or in balconies. They also made a rule that only permitted African American members to take communion after the whites had finished. The unwillingness of the Methodist Church to listen to the needs and desires of its African American members prompted African Americans to separate from the Methodist Church.
Although the African Methodist Episcopal Church broke with the Methodist Church, its members decided to affiliate their new church with both the Methodist and the Episcopal Churches. The main reason for this was a deep resentment of the Methodists among some of Allen's congregation. Other members pointed out that the Methodist Church officially condemned slavery, even if many of the white members were prejudiced.
Both in the past and today, the African Methodist Episcopal Church members believed that God wanted them to spread his word. God also wanted his followers to care for other people by any means possible. The Church placed a heavy emphasis on education. Its members believed that the best way to help others is to give them the ability to help themselves.
While the Church's original membership consisted exclusively of African Americans, people of all races are welcome to join the congregations today. Church members also have a great deal of control over their ministers. The African Methodist Episcopal Church consists of nineteen separate districts. The majority of these districts oversee the faith in the United States and Canada. Other districts serve the Caribbean Sea, Central and South America, and Africa. By the late 1990s, approximately three million people belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
During the 1800s, many African Americans in Ohio found comfort and religious fulfillment in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Most of the churches of this denomination were built in Ohio's major cities. White Methodists established Wilberforce College in Ohio in 1856. During the 1860s, the African Methodist Episcopal Church acquired Wilberforce and opened its doors to African Americans. It was the first institution of higher education in the United States established specifically for African American students.