The First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church unveiled “The Legacy of Bishop Richard Allen and AME Church Mural” on Monday in West Philadelphia.
The four-story high portrait, painted in vivid colors, graces the AME Church’s international headquarters at 38th and Market Street in West Philadelphia. The festivities marked the beginning of the church’s 50th quadrennial session here from July 6 to 13.
The timing of the unveiling, on July 4, American Independence Day, seemed a fitting to celebrate Allen and the AME movement’s 200th birthday. The church founder bought his freedom in 1783 and went on to found Bethel (Mother Bethel Church), in 1794. He founded the AME denomination, the first independent Black Christian denomination, in 1816.
“It is an expression of a compilation of things — justice, equality, and the diaspora,” said Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram, the presiding prelate of the First Episcopal District, AME Church. “Now [people] can see this apostle of freedom, justice and equality. I thank God for what Richard Allen did for all of us.”
Boasting rich shades of purple and amber, the mural features the image of Allen’s bust, stern-faced, wearing a preacher’s coat. Statements of Black history are embedded throughout the image, including likenesses of other church leaders, such as William Paul Quinn, David A. Payne, Henry M. Turner and Jarena Lee, the first woman preacher of the AME church. It also features images of Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama, who is depicted being prayed over by a group of ministers. Scenes of slaves on a slave ship, African tribal prints and churches are layered throughout, as well as the walk-out at St. George’s Methodist Church in the late 1700s, a turning point in Allen’s establishment of the AME Church.
“It becomes a part of the history,” said Rebecca Smith of Bermuda, who attended the unveiling with four other friends who also traveled from the island. “When people walk around the city, they can see the founder.”
Kathleen Trott, who also attended the ceremony Monday, said it “made her proud to be AME.”
Willis “Nomo” Humphrey, lead muralist for the city’s mural arts program, designed the project. He said they began in February and offered three painting days for the public to be involved and paint some of the mural. He said the planning involved several meetings with Bishop Ingram and his wife, the Rev. Jessica Kendall Ingram, the Episcopal supervisor of the First Episcopal District AME Church.
“I knew I wanted to do a portrait and incorporate a lot of other [symbols] in the portrait,” Humphrey said. “I’m grateful to be apart of this project to show such an iconic figure.”
Leading up to the unveiling, the church also presented and dedicated a statue of Richard Allen at Mother Bethel, at Sixth and Lombard streets in South Philadelphia and sponsored a torch run from Dover, Del. to the church.
“If they can have a statue of Rocky, who doesn’t even exist, why can’t we have a statue of Richard Allen?” Ingram said Monday.
The Ingrams said the motivation to work is that much greater with Allen’s image on their office building.
“I cannot express what it feels like today,” Jessica Ingram said. “Bishop is looking at me every day, saying ‘You better do right.’”
Bishop Ingram agreed.
“Every time I ride in here and see it; it inspires me to do more for the kingdom and the church,” he said.