8 Influential African American Christian Leaders Who Have Contributed to U.S. History

As the United States observes Black History Month, many are looking back in time to learn more about those who’ve shaped our nation.

The contributions of African-Americans to U.S. history are pervasive and include people from all walks of life who became soldiers, activists, inventors, athletes, scientists, entertainers, and a president.

Here’s a list of eight notable African-American Christian leaders. They include a famed civil rights leader, a pioneering female preacher, and a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Gowan Pamphlet

Few details are known about the life of notable slave preacher Gowan Pamphlet, who eventually bought his freedom and oversaw a congregation of several hundred.

What is known is that he was a popular Baptist preacher among the slaves of the Williamsburg, Virginia, area during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was noted as an early pastor for the historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.

According to historian Jan Couperthwaite, Pamphlet has several firsts to his credit: the first African-American preacher to be accepted into the Virginia-based Dover Baptist Association; the first to own real estate in Williamsburg; and the first to be ordained while still a slave.

Richard Allen

The founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richard Allen, was born to slaves in 1760.

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.

In 2016, two centuries after Allen founded the AME Church, the United States Postal Service released a stamp in his honor, describing him as “one of the most important African-American leaders of his era.”

“His life — a legacy of determination, uplift, charity and faith — remains an inspiration to all Americans,” stated the Post Office in 2016.

Jarena Lee

The Rev. Jarena Lee was the first official female preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, being granted a license by Bishop Richard Allen, the denomination’s founder.

Born Feb. 11, 1783, in Cape May, New Jersey, to free black parents, Lee was baptized in 1807 into the AME Church and given authorization to preach in 1819.

“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.”

Harriet Tubman

Nineteenth century abolitionist Harriet Tubman is known for leading slaves to freedom during the Antebellum Era and actively supported the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Nicknamed “Moses,” Tubman was a practicing member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and claimed to have visions as a youth following a beating from an overseer when she was a slave.

“Like Joan of Arc before her, Tubman believed she possessed divine visions and communication with a higher existence,” noted The Prague Review.

“It wasn’t just Tubman that believed this but the people around her as well. Slaves would remark on how Tubman would ‘consult with God’ on journeys back north. It was said at Port Royal during the Civil War, when she treated the ill yet contracted no disease herself, that Tubman must be blessed by God.”

Charles Albert Tindley

A native of Berlin, Maryland, whose father was a slave, Charles Albert Tindley was a Methodist pastor whose contributions to sacred music remain relevant in the modern day.

The mind behind songs like “Stand by Me,” “Nothing Between,” and “Beams of Heaven,” in 1982 the Smithsonian presented a combination musical tribute and colloquium on his work.

“Tindley’s compositions influenced Thomas A. Dorsey and Roberta Martin, and formed the base for a new black urban sacred music — gospel,” reported The Washington Post at the time.

“Later, the hymns composed during the twilight of Tindley’s ministry reflected his faith — ‘Spiritual Springtime,’ ‘A Better Day Is Coming By-and-By,’ ‘The Home of the Soul,’ ‘I’ll Be Satisfied,’ and ‘He’ll Take You Through.’ These and many other hymns establish, without fear of contradiction, that Tindley was the father of gospel music.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski

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