Richard Allen (1760 - 1831) was born into slavery, the property of a rich Philadelphia merchant.
As a child, Richard and his family were sold to a Delaware plantation owner. But when that owner had financial problems, he sold Richard's mother, and three of his five brothers and sisters.
Yet he did allow Richard and his remaining brother and sister to attend the Methodist Society, a progressive white church organization that welcomed black people, including slaves.
Because it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write, Richard taught himself and at age 17 he joined the Methodists, studied the bible and began evangelizing on their behalf.
Richard desperately wanted his freedom but rather than flee his master, he asked Reverend Freeborn Garrettson, who in 1775 had freed his own slaves, to convince Richard's master to emancipate his slaves.
Rev. Garrettson persuaded Richard's master that slavery was a horrific sin against God. Deeply moved, this master let Richard and his other slaves work extra hours to buy their freedom and Richard was freed.
In 1786 Richard moved to Philadelphia, at that time the biggest U.S. city.
As a Methodist preacher, Richard was welcomed into the clergy of St. George's Methodist Church, a fully integrated congregation, one of the few fully integrated church congregations in the deeply segregated U.S.
But as more black people joined their church, the St. George vestry ordered blacks to sit only in isolated pews, as the bigotry dominating America had begun to seize them as well.
As a result, Richard and his friend, fellow black preacher Absalom Jones made a bold decision with major historic consequences.
In 1787, at a St. George church service, they directed black congregants to take seats throughout the church. This infuriated the white church leaders who told Richard and Absalom to leave.
Richard and Absalom peacefully led the black congregants out with them in what had become the first civil rights sit-in in U.S. history.
Shortly afterward, in an old vacated wooden blacksmith shop, they started America's first black church, a forerunner to what would become the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).
The AME Church grew and today it has 7,000 congregations around the world, involving millions of people.
But the AME Church later became vital for another reason. It was a safe meeting place for black people during and after the U.S. Civil War, the war that ended slavery. It also raised money to aid destitute black people, including women and children.
In the 20th century, the Church became a safe place to organize civil rights demonstrations.
And at a time when white financial institutions rarely funded anything for black people, the Church raised money for businesses, home mortgages, insurance, education and other essential needs.
This is what resulted from the courage of Richard and Absalom, and the black congregants who joined them.