Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. The A.M.E. Church's membership grew rapidly during the 1800s, and congregations exist in more than 30 countries around the world.
Allen and other free blacks in Philadelphia experienced discrimination at their local Methodist Episcopal churches in the late 1700s. As a result, Allen established his own congregation in 1793. After legally gaining independence from white Methodist leaders in 1816, the African Methodist Episcopal Church officially began. The church took most of its doctrine from the Methodist Episcopal Church; the A.M.E. therefore became the first major Christian denomination to arise from social rather than theological differences.
Before the Civil War, the A.M.E could only thrive where free blacks lived. Therefore, congregations established churches in northern U.S. cities such as Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and New York City. Following the fall of the Confederacy, the A.M.E received many emancipated blacks in the southern and western United States. By the end of the 19th century, the A.M.E had established churches on the African continent.
From its beginnings, the A.M.E Church was against slavery and discrimination against blacks. Noted abolitionist Frederick Douglas gave one of his last speeches at an A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. Rosa Parks, a famous activist of the 1960s, was a member of the A.M.E. Church. The A.M.E. Church in Selma, Alabama, was the starting point of one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.