New Haven NAACP celebrates stamp for black church founder
New Haven Register, February 18, 2016
By Ed Stannard, New Haven Register
Greater New Haven Branch NAACP First Vice President Anthony Dawson, left, and President Dori Dumas, center, assist New Haven Postmaster Tom Sullivan unveil the USPS 39th commemorative edition Black Heritage stamp of Bishop Richard Allen during a ceremony at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven Thursday.
NEW HAVEN - For the Rev. Orsella Cooper-Hughes, the new Bishop Richard Allen postage stamp brings together her family history with her faith as a member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Her father, Daniel Cooper, worked in the U.S. Postal Service for 40 years and, as she told the members of the Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP Thursday night, “I am A.M.E.-born, A.M.E.-bred, and when I die I’ll be A.M.E.-dead.”
Cooper-Hughes, associate minister at Bethel, spoke at the unveiling of the new 49-cent “forever” stamp at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. She was still brimming with excitement because she and her father traveled to Philadelphia on Feb. 2 for the stamp’s first-day ceremony at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, which Allen founded 200 years ago so that African-Americans would have a church in which to worship freely.
“This to me was like Independence Day, this was like Christmas morning as far as I was concerned,” she said of the trip.
Allen, who was born in slavery in 1760, led the black members out of St. George’s Methodist Church, where they were forced to sit in the balcony, to found their own church in 1787. It became the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, the first denomination not founded for theological reasons.
As Robert Gibson, a retired teacher at James Hillhouse High School, said, “In this case, the reason for the rise of the A.M.E. Church was American racism. If those Christians in that church (St. George’s) had acted like real Christians, then the blacks and the whites could have fellowshipped together.”
While Sunday morning is often called the most segregated time of the week, Gibson said, “It didn’t have to be that way. Because what happened in St. George’s Church happened across the country.”
Gibson talked about Allen’s legacy as a slave who bought his freedom for $2,000, worked as an abolitionist and on the Underground Railroad. “He was really dedicated to preaching the gospel … building up his community, developing his community. … What was really remarkable about him was that he had no bitterness,” Gibson said.
Instead, he founded a denomination that has 7.5 million members in 39 countries and in 12,000 congregations. In Philadelphia, “they formed the first independent black denomination in the world,” Gibson said. “From that founding in 1816 the church grew, spread around the world.”
Dori Dumas, president of the Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP and a member of Bethel A.M.E. Church on Goffe Street, said Allen is not just “significant and important to the A.M.E. Church. … We felt it was very important that we share this with the greater community.”
New Haven Postmaster Tom Sullivan said the Richard Allen stamp is the 39th in the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage series. “What I love about black history is it brings to the youth the history I think we lose,” adding that the Allen stamp in particular represents “the tribulations and the triumphs (of) 7.5 million A.M.E. members throughout the world.”
Bethel A.M.E. Church also plans a celebration of the stamp at its 10 a.m. Sunday service, after which the stamp will be available for sale.