The Rich History Behind Rockford’s First African American Church


Peter Blakely was born a slave in South Carolina, who eventually escaped and came to Rockford with his wife and mother in law in 1861. Thirty years later — he would make Rockford history.

Laura Furman, Midway Village Museum Curator says, “In 1891, Peter Blakely invited a group of African American families, locally, to come to his mother in law’s home on South Main Street and have the first meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which became Allen Chapel.”

As word of the new church spread, more people started attending.

“In 1892, they moved to a house at Winnebago and Elm street. And ultimately in 1917, built the brick church that was there for many, many years,” says Furman.

The chapel is named after Richard Allen, a former slave who founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1794, the first independent black denomination in the country.

Reverend Charlene Bulls-Mills, Pastor of Allen Chapel AME church says, “The reason you see anvils a lot around the church is because Richard Allen the founder, organized the AME church in a blacksmith shop.”

From those humble beginnings, the church grew — including here in Rockford.

In 2006, Allen Chapel moved from downtown to their current location on Rural Street where the church continues with a vibrant congregation.

Reverend Bulls-Mills says, “It’s the every day church for everyday people is the church’s motto and that motto really resonates with me because it says that people from every walk of life are welcome.”

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