419 S. 6th St., 215/925-0616
HOURS: Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–3 p.m., Sun. noon–1 p.m., call ahead
Former slave and preacher Reverend Richard Allen was forced to sit in the balcony of the mixed-race church he attended, St. George’s Methodist. So in 1797, along with Absalom Jones and others, he founded Mother Bethel A.M.E., a place where African Americans could worship without restriction. The first African Methodist church in America occupies the oldest piece of land continuously owned by African Americans.
The original building was a converted blacksmith shop, but the current building—the church’s fourth incarnation—is a stunning example of 19th-century Romanesque revival architecture built in the 1890s. Light streams through the expansive stained-glass windows and creates a warm glow on the elaborate woodwork.
The basement holds Allen’s tomb and a small but fascinating museum highlighting the history of the church and of African American history in general. Allen, born in 1760, was a slave in Germantown who bought his own freedom in 1782. He became a prominent politician and abolitionist activist and the church was an important station on the Underground Railroad. It was also used as a school where slaves were taught to read.
The museum’s artifacts include the original pulpit constructed by Allen, his Bible, ballot boxes used to elect church officers, and a wooden pew from the original blacksmith’s shop. The church also played a significant role in the birth of the first black periodical and insurance company, and Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were among the famous leaders who spoke here.