Delaware’s Historic role in African American churches

History Matters: Delaware’s role in African American churches

By Ben Szmidt       November 8, 2013

History Matters digs into the Delaware Historical Society’s archives each month to explore connections between key people, places, and events in history and present-day news.
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
This month’s History Matters visits the Delaware Historical Society’s exhibit “Forging Faith, Building Freedom: African American Faith Experiences in Delaware.”
The exhibit celebrates the anniversaries of two critical milestones in African-American faith.
200 years ago in 1813, Peter Spencer founded the first independent black denominational church in Wilmington.
A year later, Spencer started the August Quarterly, the nation’s oldest African American festival. Reverend Lawrence Livingston of Wilmingon’s Mother African Union Church believes that Spencer’s creation had a far-reaching impact.
“People would come here to Wilmington, Delaware, hear about this religious freedom, and then go back and start churches where they were.”
The exhibit also examines Spencer’s influence on other Delaware preachers, such as Absalom Jones, the first black Episcopal priest in the U.S.; Richard Allen, founder of the AME denomination; and Samuel Cornish, founder of the first black Presbyterian church in New York City and an editor of Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first black newspaper.

Additionally, Forging Faith, Building Freedom goes beyond the spiritual aspects of black churches by showing how congregational life provided a safe haven for the oppressed and the involvement of the church leaders in some of the country’s biggest social movements.
Forging Faith, Building Freedom: African American Faith Experiences in Delaware will be open through the summer of 2014. For more information, visit the exhibit’s website.

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