By Richard B. Muhammad

I tried watching the first part of the PBS Series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”

While I love the history and the images, I have major problems. Problem One: Gates has a penchant for disrespecting the very people he is supposed to be teaching about. For example at one point, he cavalierly calls Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church, a “trickster” because Allen had preachers who were anti-slavery visit his master and convince the master that slavery was a sin. Not gifted, not brilliant, not a man with keen social and spiritual vision, but a trickster … who are we talking about here B’rer Rabbit or a “watermelon stealin’ coon”? Simply insulting.

Richard Allen is one of the towering religious figures in the history of this country and the world.


Then there was an over-generalization about Northern religious fervor in the 18th century that proclaimed slavery was an evil and all men were created equal. Over-simplification and a lie. Prove it? Allen founded the AME Church because of White racism and segregation after his good master allowed him to “purchase” his freedom. If Allen had to separate and start his own church, how could the religious fervor of the time have been totally infused with such grand notions of equality? It wasn’t.

To be anti-slavery did not mean believing in Black equality or progress. You could be an abolitionist and anti-Black at the same time. Many felt slavery was morally wrong and felt Blacks were inferior. There were also fears of growing numbers of Blacks, fear of the births of offspring from slave women raped by their masters and other issues.

Allen was born February 14, 1760. He bought his freedom and was a preacher in the Methodist Church by 1784. In 1787, he walked out of the segregated St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. With Absalom Jones, another Methodist preacher, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church survived not because of support from the White congregation it left, but despite opposition.

“The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. When officials at St. George’s MEC pulled Blacks off their knees while praying, FAS members discovered just how far American Methodists would go to enforce racial discrimination against African Americans. Hence, these members of St. George’s made plans to transform their mutual aid society into an African congregation. … In 1794, Bethel AME was dedicated with Allen as pastor. To establish Bethel’s independence from interfering White Methodists, Allen, a former Delaware slave, successfully sued in the Pennsylvania courts in 1807 and 1815 for the right of his congregation to exist as an independent institution. Because Black Methodists in other middle Atlantic communities encountered racism and desired religious autonomy, Allen called them to meet in Philadelphia to form a new Wesleyan denomination, the AME,” according to

Second problem: Gates talks with another historian about Gabriel Prosser’s Rebellion, a Virginia slave revolt in 1800 that failed because two slaves told their masters what was planned. Gates asked the silly question, was Prosser a patriot? Really? Did Gates ever ask if George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were traitors, turncoats to the British Crown and terrorists?

So the colonists can blast Britain for freedom, the U.S. nuke Japan, depleted-uranium-bomb Iraq and drone to hell Afghanistan killing innocent civilians but a Black man fighting for freedom is grounds for silly questions? We obviously don’t have the right to freedom and liberty articulated by the hypocritical founders of this nation.

Whatever you watch, be aware, research and ask questions. By the way, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free one slave. Doubt me? Look it up.

(Final Call editor-in-chief Richard B. Muhammad can be reached at [email protected]. You can also follow him on Facebook and @RMfinalcall on Twitter.)